The “Key Race” was a method devised by renowned handicapper Steven Davidowitz back in the 70’s, before information became so easily accessible. As the story goes Steven had been given a job at Laurel Park as the track handicapper, but needed to start within a week. Laurel Park was a track he was somewhat unfamiliar with. As a way to absorb a lot of information quickly he poured over result charts looking for patterns to work with. For the sake of expediency, he got into the pattern of looking up the previous race charts of recent winners. From going down this rabbit hole he realized that there were races that contained multiple winners within a race. Being the excellent handicapper he is he soon realized that this was more than just a series of coincidences. What came out of this was all kind of revelations that led to legitimizing other patterns. These patterns ranged from trainer patterns, to track bias, class drops, horses shipping into Laurel from other tracks as well as others that he may keep to himself to this day.
What came out of that was a handicapping system known as the “Key Race Method”. Today it is an integrated part of past performances and PDF racing charts, noted by a name being italicized to show they won their next time out.
How can the Key Race Method work for handicapping the Breeders’ Cup? After all this is the best of the best, we already know many of the contenders have won most of their most recent races. So instead of directly using the key race method lets just use the inspiration of Davidowitz’s handicapping rigor to come up with our own method.
Handicapping for the Breeders’ Cup is overwhelming for anyone. There are usually around 200 horses running in 13 races. In order to get a jump on it a player can get the pre-entries that come out 10 days before the races. However one setback to that is that there are a handful of unknown factors involved. For one thing there are no postpositions drawn, the fields are saturated with possible entries and horses that are crossed entered in other races. These unknowns leave a problem when it comes to really getting down to make advanced picks. You can’t know how the pace will set up, you can’t know what positions horses will be breaking from, you can’t even know which race some of them will be running in.
What any good handicapper can do in this situation is to break the races down into small pieces allowing for the other pieces to fall into place when more information comes out.
One thing the extra time available does is to leave more time to watch races. While most people associate handicapping with grizzled old bettors pouring through racing forms taking vigorous notes on pace scenarios and troubled trips, the use of race replay is a way to really understand what goes on between the wording in the form.
One aspect that makes handicapping the Breeders’ Cup races more accessible is the fact that many of these horses have run against each other during the year in stake races. There are races in which 3-4 horses entered have run against each other. This gives you an excellent window into the tendencies that each horse has and a direct comparison to how they will run against each other in the Breeders’ Cup.
More important than finding one race with 4-5 horses running against each other, there may be one race that can link through the majority of contenders within a race. This can come in handy when looking at the turf races, because there will be European horses coming over who have never run in North America. However there will be a race over in Europe that will link to a European horse who has come over to the states earlier. Finding this link can be very valuable to understanding where everything fits in the big picture.
Lets use the example of the Sea The Stars Pretty Polly Stakes which took place in Ireland back in June, and see if we can go down the rabbit hole and come up with a solid opinion for the Filly and Mare Turf (which happens to be the first leg of the pick 6).
– Legatssimo finished 2nd
– Secret Gesture finished 4th @ 8-1
– Mutatis Mutandis finished 6th (probable F&M Turf)
-Next race out Secret Gesture, who finished 4th against Legatssimo, wins Grade 1 Beverly D at Arlington Park (*Secret Gesture was DQ’d and placed 2nd to Watsdachances)
– In that race Secret Gesture defeats F & M Turf entries: Stephanie’s Kitten and Watsdachances winner)
– Legatissimo follows up her second with back-to-back wins in the Nassau & Matron Stakes, both Group 1 races.
– In the Nassau Stakes Legatissimo defeats Jazzi Top, who runs 5th and is also pre-entered in the F&M Turf.
–Jazzi Top follows up her 5th in the Nassau with a win in the Group 2 Nonette. She the comes back to give a strong 2nd place in the Group 1 Prix de’l Opera Longines
– Stephanie’s Kitten goes on to win the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont Park defeating 1st time NA runner, Mutatis Mutandis (IRE) and once again defeating Watdachances
What conclusions can we gain from this exercise?
The most obvious conclusion is that Legatissimo is the horse to beat and will be a justifiable favorite. Of course there are many other factors to consider when looking at any race with new dynamics. Keep in mind that this conclusion came after looking at only one race. Go through three or four races in order to further legitimize your opinion, or change it.
If further investigation legitimizes Legatissimo as a strong favorite then this will help in simplifying the deepest day of racing all year. This comes in especially handy when considering this is the first leg of the pick 6. The stronger your opinion is when constructing a complicated ticket like the pick 6, the better you will feel about the outcome, regardless of the results. This may not make sense at first but after handicapping races that are wide open, it will feel better when you are able to afford to go deeper in those races to catch a price.