Home-field advantage is factored into gamblers’ decision-making in almost every major sport. In competitions like American football and Major League Baseball, home-field advantage is more than just a morale boost in front of a happy crowd – it’s a practical advantage.
Human beings feel more comfortable at home, or at least in familiar surroundings. The best example is racecar drivers, who feel like they’re inside a womb when in the right machine, but when in the wrong car are just trying to avoid disaster.
Horse racing is not an arena in which handicappers pay as much attention to home turf. After all, it’s not turf anyway – it’s Cushion Track or Tapeta. Thoroughbreds come from hither and yon to compete at various big racetracks. There’s no “home” and “away” situation.
Oh, sure, a reporter might reference the fact that a given horse is racing near the stables he was born in, or next door to his training ground. But it’s more of a nice story than something to turn handicappers’ heads.
On the other hand, it’s extremely significant when a racing horse prefers a certain type of track, or a specific atmosphere. It’s not an every-day scenario. Thoroughbreds are used to travel and working out on different tracks, rain or shine. Some horses are better in mud than others, but most can handle any synthetic surface.
But when the scenario does occur, it can create solid betting opportunities. Action doesn’t always command the odds, but it does affect them. Bookies won’t offer odds that gamblers aren’t biting on, or odds that hurt the house by giving away a jackpot on a popular Thoroughbred. Meanwhile, bettors dislike wagers on athletes who haven’t been winning. Nothing begets bets like an unbeaten streak, and nothing prevents more wagers than a loss. A horse which hasn’t been winning is not a hot ticket. It doesn’t always matter why.
Sometimes, though, it does matter. What if a very, very fast racehorse is only comfortable on a certain kind of track? The 4-year-old colt Thunder Snow is an example of a horse whose winning odds have plunged after a few disasters on tracks he just wasn’t fond of racing on. His results on surfaces that he likes are often terrific. But it’s not convincing many bookies to offer short odds.
Why? Because one of Thunder Snow’s embarrassing episodes happened at none other than the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
In this betting preview, we’ll take a look at 3 quality sleeper-picks for the 2018 Dubai World Cup, starting with the Thoroughbred who is wrongly named after precipitation.
Dubai World Cup Sleeper Pick No. 1: Thunder Snow
- (+1000 at Bovada Sportsbook)
An unforeseen event occurred at the start of the Derby last year. 19 of 20 horses rushed out of the gates, leaving Thunder Snow to attempt to buck his jockey like he was at a rodeo instead of a race.
Initially it appeared the colt had suffered an injury, but after an appointment with the Derby’s on-call veterinarian, Dr. Keith Latson, fans learned that was not the case.
Instead, Thunder Snow just didn’t like the wet track. The downpour had ended by post-time in Louisville, but standing water made the colt refuse to run the track in any kind of regular time (he did make it over the finish line in a woeful 20th place).
It was a crushing disappointment for Godolphin Racing. There were no abnormalities of any kind found by doctors in an examination, and the colt walked back to the barn under his own power. But he had been a 16/1 bet to win at Churchill Downs that day. Owner Sheihk Mohammed’s losing streak at the Derby would reach double-digits in the most embarrassing way possible.
But to Godolphin’s credit, no one gave up on Thunder Snow. In fact, the Thoroughbred has been given every opportunity to shine since that fateful day, and its opponents have often come-up as dry as the Middle East desert trying to best his times.
Thunder Snow had already won 3 sweepstakes from late October to Derby Day ’17. After the freak-out in the Kentucky mud, he won at Chantilly with an impressive sub-1:39 time, then developed a rivalry with fellow Dubai World Cup competitor North America over the course of a win and place at Meydan in February and March respectively.
The Kentucky Derby wasn’t the only race Thunder Snow disapproved of, however. After a last-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, it was discovered that the colt didn’t like the soft way that the synthetic dirt was packed onto the grounds. “We have given him a nice break since Ascot when the ground was very soft and did not suit him,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor told the UAE media. “We know he likes the Meydan surface, so that is not a concern and we are very happy with him.”
So the colt is picky. Very, very picky. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win on dry land and a tight surface. His feud with North America has been epic over the last 2 months. Thunder Snow just can’t run and win if it rains or if the track is too cushy. To almost quote Seinfeld, his “mudda” was not a mudder.
In case nobody has noticed, weather in Dubai tends to be pretty dry. Based on recent results and home-field advantage at Meydan, the 4-year-old Godolphin colt is an extremely solid pick at (+1000).
Dubai World Cup Sleeper No. 2: Furia Cruzada
- (+5000 at Bovada Sportsbook)
Hollywood makes movies about racing only when brand names like Secretariat are destined for forever-fame. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there about our next sleeper, who is in last place on the World Cup futures board at (+5000). But for sheer storyline quality, Tinsel Town couldn’t possibly beat what Furia Cruzada’s career has to offer.
The mare is aging at 6 years old. She has won a handful of sweepstakes, including races at Meydan and Argentino De Palermo. A protracted slump at 5-years-old saw the Thoroughbred fail to win, place or show in several consecutive races. But she would soon break out of the funk in the most dramatic way possible.
At a Meydan race in February of 2018, Furia Cruzada was in last position when something inside the distaff runner snapped. Pushed by jockey Antonio Fresu, she took off around the outside and caught up to final-turn leader Promising Run. The pair battled to a photo finish. Furia Cruzada then showed on the same track in March among a talented field of Dubai World Cup contenders.
I’m not here to tell you she’s going to win at Dubai. But the near last-to-first sprint was amazing and demonstrated world-class ability in the late stages of a race.
Would the distaff Thoroughbred put on another incredible charge and score a comeback win at the World Cup if they held it 5 times? 10 times? Maybe, maybe not.
But (+5000) odds? Now we’re talking. Take that bet slip and run.
Dubai World Cup Sleeper No. 3: North America
- (+1200 at Bovada Sportsbook)
Don’t try searching for this Thoroughbred on Google. Like a gangster in a Woody Allen movie, you will end up looking at boring educational content, “Horse Racing in North America” in this case.
But don’t worry, your favorite handicapper is here to do the dirty work. We’ve managed some research on North America – the horse, not the continent – which seems to show that the gelding could very well out-run its odds in Dubai on March 31st.
North America secured his spot in the Dubai World Cup after a spectacular front-running win in the Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan on Super Saturday. But the race also turned into sweet revenge. The 6-year-old beat Thunder Snow, the horse which had surpassed it twice in 2 months on the same track, by more than 5 lengths.
Jockey Richard Mullen and North America shot out in front, challenged by the dry-track specialist, but they were never close to being caught. The swift gelding finished the 2,000 meters in a track-record time of 2:07.71.
The horse’s trainer Satish Seemar says that he sees improvement in every race leading up to the World Cup, telling The National, “He’s now the poster boy for the sales here. It’s a typical success story in racing and as far as me and my team is concerned, it’s very gratifying for all of us to have a horse like him and to see him progress.”
Maybe bookies aren’t ready to buy it, giving North America only a 12-to-1 chance to win the prestigious race. But recent results bear out Seemar’s statement. The animal showed in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 in January before placing after the memorable Dubai duel in February.
As a Horse Racing Nation forum user recently put it, North America and Thunder Snow could be the favorites at the Dubai World Cup. Yet both horses sit at a 4-figure money line while former Derby contenders like Gunnevera enjoy shorter odds.
Gunnevera (+800) isn’t necessarily a faster horse than either the colt at (+1000) or the gelding at (+1200). He’s just more famous in the West after a strong showing before, during and after last year’s Run for the Roses.
That was then, this is now. A horse like North America offers a bigger payout on a winning ticket, and proven results in big races at Meydan.
Go with a Long Shot at Dubai
West Coast is a minus-odds favorite at (-125) to win the Dubai World Cup. Handicappers like the 4-year-old colt’s 2017 wins at the Pennsylvania Derby and the Travers Stakes. Moreover, they like the horse’s trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert seems able to propel any Thoroughbred to the top of a futures board, but West Coast hasn’t won since Philadelphia last September. It was a very impressive win indeed – Always Dreaming was in the field that day.
But there’s not much to like about this wager without promise of a decent payout on a winner. The horse finished place and show in 2 recent races at Santa Anita, losing to Gun Runner and Collected in the Breeders Cup Classic in November. He is vulnerable to strong sprinters.
That makes any of the above sleepers Thunder Snow, Furia Cruzada, and North America a better pick than bookies are thinking.
Take a long-odds bet for a potential jackpot at the Dubai World Cup.