Marathon horse races held over 1 ¾ miles or farther aren’t all that common in North America, and when they are on the agenda, some handicappers find themselves puzzled by the unusual challenge of handicapping such long-distance races.
What do you even look for when handicapping marathons? Obviously, horses with proven form running long distances are ideal, but in the absence of such horses, I’ve found that three factors—pedigree, running style, and trainer records—can help point you in the right direction. Let’s take a closer look at each factor:
Pedigree might be growing less important in the Triple Crown races, but it still exerts a profound influence on marathons. When examining pedigrees, look for stallions who excelled as racehorses in long-distance events, or who have repeatedly sired long-winded runners. If you want to dig even deeper, look up the produce record of the dam to see if the runner you’re interested in has any noteworthy siblings with strong form going a mile or farther.
A horse that is always headstrong and eager to get to the lead as soon as possible probably isn’t the type who will relish running a slow-paced marathon. Instead, look for horses that have repeatedly showed the ability to relax nicely in slow-paced races—they’re more likely to settle and save their strength during the early stages of marathons, allowing them to produce a big finish in the final quarter-mile.
Did you know that Todd Pletcher is one of the most successful trainers in the country when it comes to conditioning high-class marathon runners? According to statistics from DRF Formulator, over the last five years Pletcher’s runners have gone 6-for-16 (38%) in races held between 1 ¾ miles and 2 miles. Those six wins came with five different horses, and betting all sixteen runners would have yielded a profit. In other words, familiarizing yourself with trainers who have enjoyed repeated success with marathon runners (Chad Brown, Kevin Attard, and Brendan Walsh are three others) can be very helpful.
Utilizing these strategies would have successfully pointed you to Charming Kitten in the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, a two-mile turf race at Belmont Park. His pedigree was perfect—he was a son of stamina influence Kitten’s Joy out of Iteration, a mare by Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Wild Again. That made Charming Kitten a full brother to Queen’splatekitten, an accomplished graded stakes competitor who relished running a mile or farther.
In terms of running style, Charming Kitten almost always liked to relax near the back of the pack early on, an encouraging trait. Lastly, he was trained by none other than Todd Pletcher, so handicappers attuned to Charming Kitten’s ideal marathon profile were rewarded as the colt rallied to victory and paid $13.00 for every $2 win bet.
The next time you handicap a marathon horse race, be sure to give these tips a try!