In a recent article here on BetAmerica, we discussed how regional class advantages can exist throughout the sport of horse racing and produce to profitable wagering opportunities.
Our first example noted how turf horses from the East Coast tend to be superior to their counterparts from the West Coast, but when we turn our attention to dirt racing, the picture looks very different. Specifically, when it comes to three-year-old dirt horses—Kentucky Derby candidates—the west has been best more often than not over the last half-dozen years or so.
Just look at the results of the three Triple Crown races since 2014. Five horses based on the West Coast—California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, Exaggerator, and Justify—have combined to win 10 of the 15 Triple Crown races during that timeframe, including Triple Crown sweeps from American Pharoah and Justify.
But this dominance hasn’t been restricted exclusively to the classics. In years when the West Coast three-year-olds have been superior, their dominance frequently permeates throughout the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and even the lower-ranked West Coast classic contenders have enjoyed productive efforts (sometimes at big prices) in Derby prep races across the country.
Some of my favorite examples come from 2016. The superiority of the West Coast three-year-olds had been evident from the moment Nyquist and fellow Californian Swipe had shipped halfway across the country to run 1-2 in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Keeneland, and during the ensuing months, a seemingly endless string of West Coast three-year-olds embarked on similar travels to win or hit the board in major Kentucky Derby prep races.
Some of these runners were well regarded, such as Cupid (who won Oaklawn Park’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at just under 3-1) and Collected (who prevailed at just over 2-1 in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Lexington Stakes). But others started as significant longshots, and handicappers attuned to the overall ability of the West Coast Derby contenders had several opportunities to make memorable scores.
For example, there was Laoban, a maiden in three starts who went off at nearly 16-1 in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes (gr. III). He might have been overmatched against graded stakes company in California, but that was far from the case at Aqueduct, where he finished second behind the heavy favorite and completed a $2 exacta that paid $46.60.
Then there was Trojan Nation, who ran in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) after finishing no better than third in five maiden races on the West Coast. Most bettors concluded that he had no chance while jumping into Grade 1 company, but Trojan Nation certainly didn’t seem to mind the rise in class, rallying to finish second by a head at the stunning odds of 81-1! Every $2 place bet returned $40.60 and his long odds triggered a $2 exacta that yielded $319.50.
And of course, Nyquist shipped to Gulfstream Park and won the Florida Derby (gr. I) before following up with a victory in the Kentucky Derby, while Exaggerator finished second in the latter race before turning the tables on Nyquist in the Preakness.
Will we see similar results in 2019? It’s certainly possible. Game Winner struck the first blow for the West Coast by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so it could pay to keep an eye on any other Californians who ship out of state over the next five or six months—even maidens. You might be able to catch a few nice payoffs along the way!