Newsletter: Racing! A special handicapping lesson on European tracks


Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we take you across the pond.

Our lead piece today is a must-read if you, like me, don’t know much about the tracks in Europe. So, let’s not waste any more time.

Our handicapping lesson — European style

Here’s our weekly contribution from Rob Henie of the WCHR (West Coast Handicapping Report) and the ECHR (East Coast Handicapping Report). The thinking is if you can know and understand the strategies, it will make you a better handicapper.


We thought with Royal Ascot starting on Tuesday, it would be good to give you a lesson on how to interpret the tracks in Europe. Rob, the floor is yours.

“One of the things we pride ourselves in with regard to the ECHR and WCHR are the handicapping lessons we provide on a daily basis. While we’ll sometimes mention course nuances abroad, we thought we could make a chart (below) to help everyone. After all, for even the most ardent American horseplayers, the names of many European racecourses conjure up more questions than answers.

“First off, a couple of factors to keep in mind when evaluating horses from aboard compared to the locals.

“Do not attempt to compare times between Europe and the United States. Not only does the timer in Europe begin immediately out of the gate, unlike here, but also the twisting turns and uneven ground over in Europe make this an unfair comparison.

“Another point: Though the journey from Europe to the U.S. is the longest trip most will ever make, most Euro runners are acclimated to traveling. Most foreigners are trained at private training complexes, constantly shipping out to the current race meets, which are short, only days long, unlike the lengthy meets here.

“Hopefully the information we’re providing will give you a bit more ammunition when confronted with these long-distance shippers:


ECHR / WCHR European Course Guide

Ascot (England). Certainly the most storied course in England, featuring a right-handed triangular course of 1 mile-6 furlongs (1¾ miles), with two mile chutes. Though the final straight (stretch) is only 2½ furlongs long, horses showing speed here should be given extra credence, as this course is kinder to closers.

Chester (England). The smallest course in the U.K., this is a level course but perhaps the recipient of more ‘horse for course’ trips than any other British track, rewarding speed types who master the tight turns and final stretch, which is only a little more than one furlong in length. Horses with an outside draw are at a huge disadvantage here.

Doncaster (England). Home of the St. Leger, the third leg of classics here for 3-year-olds, this course is fair to all types of runners.

Epsom (England). Home of the Epsom Derby, the second leg of the classics here for 3-year-olds, this course tests the agility of its runners with a sharp turn and downhill straight, culminating with an uphill run toward the finish.

Goodwood (England). One of the most picturesque courses in the world, situated amid rolling countryside. Its six-furlong straight is mostly downhill, yes, six-furlong stretch (though wait until you read about Maisons-Laffitte below), thus, very long, giving plenty of opportunity to both styles, as the downhill course allows front runners a bit of an easier trip, while the longer stretch gives plenty of opportunity to closing types.


Newmarket (England). Home of the 2,000 Guineas, the first leg of the classics here for 3-year-olds, horses competing here in the spring face harsh weather conditions as the wind blows across the continent from Siberia, creating tough conditions. They’ve got two courses: the Rowley Mile, which is used in the spring and autumn, and the July Course, used in the summer. A winning effort here requires a fit horse, both physically and mentally.

York (England). A horseshoe-shaped, level course. Once horses turn for home, they face a 4½-furlong stretch. This is also interesting, but races up to six furlongs are run on a straight, no turns. This course favors front runners.

Chantilly (France). Not only an amazing racecourse, it also serves as a top-notch training center for French horses. The course is fair to all types of runners, with an uphill finish that tests a horse’s stamina.

Deauville (France). Think of it as Del Mar in France. A relaxing atmosphere, located in the French countryside next to the beach, this is a level course that does favor closers, making front-running efforts stand out a bit.

Longchamp (France). Home of the Prix de l’ Arc de Triomphe. With all due respect to the Dubai World Cup or the Breeders Cup Classic, the Arc is arguably the most prestigious race in the world. Horses running at this meet are facing the best Europe has to offer. The course features three right-handed ovals, which allows for five course configurations, and, depending on the distance of the race, 46 starting posts.

Maisons-Laffitte (France). Another top French track, very unique in design, as races run up to 10 furlongs are run on a straight course. Yes, 10 furlongs, that’s a 1¼-mile stretch. Because of its location on the banks of the Seine River, the course often falls victim to very ‘heavy’ going, particularly in the early spring and late autumn. Overall, plays fair to both front runners and closing types.


Saint Cloud (France). The most heavily used of the larger French tracks, this is a triangular shaped course with a very short stretch.

The Curragh (Ireland). Easily the most significant course in Ireland. The entire front side is being renovated, a new grandstand, paddock area, etc., to be completed later this year. Another course that seems to stress fitness, as horses face a long uphill stretch that seems to go on forever. The course favors closers, while speed types who are able to extend their speed through this testing stretch should be hugely upgraded.

Capannelle (Italy). Home of the Italian Derby, this is a level course fair to all types of runners.

San Siro (Italy). A livelier atmosphere than that at Capannelle, this is a very tough course with a lengthy uphill stretch.

“There you go, everyone. Hopefully you enjoyed our course lessons while learning something in the process.”

The West Coast Handicapping Report can be found at It has been endorsed by leading trainers, handicappers and industry sources.

Santa Anita review


Not much of a surprise, but Calexman won Friday’s feature, 6½ furlongs down hillside turf course. He had to work for it, but won by one length in the $61,000 purse race. Last time Calexman tried this signature course, he lost by a nose.

Calexman paid $4.80, $3.40 and $2.60. More Honor finished second, and Heartfullofstars was third.

“He’s run with some good horses,” winning trainer Vladimir Cerin told Mike Willman of Santa Anita. “I think he’s better around two turns. We’ll consider the Oceanside [one mile on July 18 at Del Mar]. If it splits, he’d have a better chance to run.”

Geovanni Franco was the winning jockey.

Santa Anita preview

Eleven seems like a lot of races for the penultimate weekend of the Santa Anita meeting, but that’s what they’ve got. Post time is 12:30 p.m. There are two stakes races and five turf races. The field sizes hold together pretty well, except for the two stakes races.

The first stakes race is early in the card about 1:35 p.m. The $100,000 Rainbow Stakes is for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. River Boyne, who last ran on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs, is the 3-5 favorite in the field of five. He finished fifth that day in the American Turf. He won his previous three races, all at Santa Anita. Flavien Prat is riding him for Jeff Mullins. Arawak is the second favorite at 2-1, with Gary Stevens riding for Kentucky-based Wesley Ward. He finished 14th in the Blue Grass Stakes.

The main stakes race is the Grade 2 $200,000 Summertime Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles. It should go to post about 3:15 p.m. Chocolate Martini, a shipper, is the 9-5 favorite for Tom Amoss. Prat gets the mount. He was a $25,000 claim four races back and followed that race with two wins before a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. She’s 9-5 in the six-horse field.


Thirteen Squared is the 5-2 second choice. She’s only one for eight lifetime but did finish third in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Here’s the field size, in order: 8, 7, 5, 6, 7, 6, 8, 8, 11, 11, 12.

Big races preview

A look at graded stakes or races worth more $100,000 or more on Saturday. All times PST.

11:47 Gulfstream: $100,000 Ginger Punch Stakes, Fla.-bred fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Favorite: Madame Uno (6-5)

1:15 Delaware: $100,000 Obeah Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Tequilita (7-2)

1:36 Santa Anita: $100,000 Rainbow Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on turf. Favorite: River Boyne (3-5)

1:57 Woodbine: $100,000 Steady Growth Stakes, Ontario-breds 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Mr Havercamp (8-5)


2:50 Belmont: $100,000 Dancin Renee Stakes, 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Holiday Disguise (6-5)

3:15 Santa Anita: Grade 2 $200,000 Summertime Oaks, fillies 3 years old, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Chocolate Martini (9-5)

4:57 Churchill: Grade 3 $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Ax Man (4-5)

5:30 Churchill: Grade 2 $200,000 Wise Dan Stakes, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Favorite: World Approval (6-5)

6:05 Churchill: $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Farrell (3-1)

6:39 Churchill: Grade 1 $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Backyard Heaven (6-5)


7:11 Churchill: Grade 3 $100,000 Regret Stakes, fillies 3 years old, 1 1/8 miles on turf. Favorite: Heavenly Love (5-1)

Bob Ike’s SA play of the day


I like two longshots in the race, #5 Saburai (15-1) and #10 Beautiful Becca (8-1). Saburai had a tough trip when making her first start in nine months and may move forward on the stretch out in distance. Becca comes off a wire-to-wire score and might be dangerous right back on the two level class boost off the claim. Bet both to win and box in the exacta.

Friday’s result: No More Talk got a perfect stalking trip from outside but was empty in mid-stretch.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here’s a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Ed Burgart’s LA play of the day

EIGHTH RACE: No. 2 Arizona Icon (3-1)

I loved the long stride this gelding displayed in last 440-yard Turf Paradise stakes outing and he showed his fondness for the Los Alamitos oval last year with an easy 350-yard allowance win. He should relish this 550-yard distance and his main competitors, Well Good and Jess Doit, have only combined for three victories in 31 starts.


Final thought

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And now the stars of the show, Friday’s results and Saturday’s entries.