Search Traffic Mailbag: 3-year-olds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

From time to time we’ll see someone come to our site in search of something interesting. Sometimes we have we have exactly what they’re looking for and sometimes we don’t. As in previous posts, we recently found a search term that made us want to do a little research.

After this past weekend’s Super Saturday performances by 3-year-olds Shared Belief in the Awesome Again and Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, it was not a surprise to see this search term in our stats: “How many 3-year-olds have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic?”

Upon reading this, we wondered the same thing. The Wikipedia page for the Breeders’ Cup Classic listed the ages for all the winners, so compiling the information to answer the initial question was fairly quick: Nine 3-year-olds have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic from 1984 – 2013 (30 runnings). But we immediately wondered more, like “what percentage of winners were 3-year-olds?”, “how often were 3-year-olds favored?” and “how often did 3-year-olds run second?”.

In order to answer these questions we dug in to the Breeders’ Cup Stats site to look at charts with occasional trips to Equibase to validate ages. Below are our findings. Feel free to grab the Google Spreadsheet.

It was somewhat surprising to learn that only 3, 4, and 5-year-olds have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (although we did not double check the information at Wikipedia). Perhaps less surprising was that 4-year-olds were the most frequent winners with 13 wins out of 30. With only one race less than 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds won eight out of 30 times.

A.P. Indy is the only favored 3-year-old to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with 3-year-olds going off as the favorite 10 times in the past 30 runnings (33.3%). Not specifically related to 3-year-olds, but favorites have won 7 out of 30 times or 23.3%, which is a lower than the average of win rate of favorites of approximately 32%.

Classic storylines have not been dominated by 3-year-olds in the recent past, and you have to go back to 2007 to find such a year. Curlin, the Preakness winner, won the Classic with King’s Bishop winner Hard Spun finishing 2nd, Derby winner and favorite Street Sense finishing 4th, Haskell winner Any Given Saturday finishing 6th and Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago finishing 8th.

With the spate of recent retirements among older horses (Mucho Macho Man, Game on Dude and Will Take Charge) we seem to be on track for another year with several well-regarded 3-year-olds in Shared Belief, Tonalist, Bayern and California Chrome who will have their fair share of backers (it appears as though both Wicked Strong and V.E. Day will pass on the Classic).

Looking back even further in Breeders’ Cup history, there have been several other years where 3-year-olds were the biggest story.

In 1985 Proud Truth, the fourth choice, was an upset winner with heavily favored Chief’s Crown running 4th and fifth choice Turkoman finishing 3rd. 1989 was all about Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, the low-priced first and second choice. In 1990 fourth choice Unbridled upset favored Rhythm, who finished 8th, while third choice Izvestia finished 6th. In 1999 Cat Thief was the 19-1 upset winner with second choice General Challenge finishing 10th and third choice Lemon Drop Kid finishing 6th.

1994 was the first of only two years where 3-year-olds filled out the trifecta: Third choice Concern beat favored Tabasco Cat by a neck while co-second choice (and part of an entry) Dramatic Gold came in third. Derby winner Go For Gin finished 8th. The other 3-year-old trifecta came in 2000 with fifth choice Tiznow edging third choice Giant’s Causeway and longshot Captain Steve finishing third while heavily favored Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus finished 6th and fourth choice Albert the Great finishing 4th.

While 2008 did have a 3-year-old exacta in Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator, it was not a year where 3-year-olds went into the race with a lot of buzz. Interestingly both were European turf shippers who took advantage of the one of the few Breeders’ Cups over the synthetic surface.

The coming weeks will filled of speculation, observation and chatter about the Classic contenders. Could Shared Belief or Tonalist, the two mostly likely to go off as favored, join A.P. Indy in the “favored 3-year-old Classic winner” category? Will there be a third 3-year–old Classic trifecta? On the flip side, could 6-year-olds Majestic Harbor or Prayer for Relief be first to break the 5-year-old barrier? With just under five weeks there’s no doubt that there will be plenty of discussion!

Post Breeders’ Cup Update
Alas Shared Belief did not join A.P. Indy as only the second favored 3-year-old to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not only did we have a 3-year-old superfecta, the first six finishers were 3-year-olds. V.E. Day was the only 3-year-old to finish behind older horses. Watch the replay and grab the results chart here!

2015 Update
American Pharoah joined A.P. Indy as only the second favored 3-year-old to win the classic.

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