Breeders' Cup - At The Races

Brian Hernandez Jr's track guide

    Brian Hernandez Jr, a leading rider at Churchill Downs and winner of the Classic in 2012, gives us the inside scoop on the famous Louisville track which will host the Breeders’ Cup for a ninth time in 2018.

The Breeders’ Cup, to be run on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd of November, returns to Churchill Downs for the first time since 2011 and a record-equalling ninth time in the 35-year history of the event. Only Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders’ Cup as many times as Churchill.

Best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Down hosts a spring/summer meet, a short meet in September and a two-month autumn meet that begins on October 28th.

The weather is typically cool at this time of year in Louisville, Kentucky, and with it having been a rainy autumn, the turf course is likely to ride slower than when the Breeders’ Cup is held in Southern California.

Timeform map of Curchill Downs

We recently spoke to Brian Hernandez Jr to get a jockey’s perspective on how the main track and turf course may play for the 14 Breeders’ Cup races to be run over the two days.

Hernandez, who won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita aboard Fort Larned, was the Eclipse Award winning apprentice jockey in 2004 and has been a regular on the Kentucky circuit since then. He was the leading rider at the 2018 Churchill spring/summer meet.

Hernandez will have several live mounts in this year’s event including Seeking the Soul in the Classic, Restless Rider in the Juvenile Fillies and Finley’sluckycharm in the Filly & Mare Sprint.

Hernandez was quick to throw his support behind a widely held theory that turf horses “seem to run really, really good” over Churchill’s main track.

“I don’t know if it’s because it’s got more clay in it, but that’s one bias I’ve noticed,” he said.

Hernandez also said to give extra credit to horses who’ve shown an affinity for the main track. For example, Finley’sluckycharm is 6 for 7 at Churchill Downs and Seeking the Soul is 3 for 8 including a victory in last year’s Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

“Once they show they like this surface, they tend to run well on it pretty regularly,” Hernandez said.

Finley’sluckycharm wins the Dream Supreme Stakes
Filly & Mare Sprint contender Finley’sluckycharm is 6 for 7 at Churchill.

Toward that end, it might be noteworthy that Imperial Hint, who will likely be heavily favored in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is 0 for 2 over Churchill’s main track though both races were longer than the six furlongs of the Sprint.

Hernandez notes that the main track tends to play faster during the spring/summer meet than in the fall.

“I’m guessing in the fall they can’t put as much water on it because of the cold temperatures,” Hernandez said.

At Churchill, unlike venues such as Santa Anita, Del Mar or Keeneland, the Dirt Mile is run around one turn. Hernandez said that despite the long run into the first turn, horses generally drawn outside of post 10 are at a disadvantage.

The stretch on Churchill’s main track is 1,234 ½-feet long, compared to 919 feet at Del Mar, where the Breeders’ Cup was held last year. While horses do have more time to make up ground in the lane, Hernandez noted that it’s important to save as much ground as possible around the turn before swinging out.

“Churchill has a pretty long stretch and if you get hung out wide around the turn when they switch leads it catches up to them by the eighth pole,” Hernandez said. There’s an advantage to the horses on the inside, it’ll carry them a little farther it seems.”

Hernandez said he’s noticed that the Churchill turf course has changed since the last time the Breeders’ Cup was held here.

“For some reason it’s gotten soft and it stays soft,” he said. “The horses seem to get over it okay, but they take big divots out of it. I don’t know why.”

The Turf Sprint will be run at 5 1-2 furlongs this year. It was run at five furlongs in 2011.

Hernandez said it’s important to be closer to the inside in sprints on turf. “That turn comes up pretty fast, it’s sharp around there,” he said.

Hernandez said he feels the outside of the course is preferred in the stretch. “If you can get to the outside of the course horses seem to pick it up from there,” he said.

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