European horses traveling to compete in the Breeders’ Cup must cope with at least four presumed disadvantages.
First, the time differential between Western Europe and the United States can disrupt a horse’s normal training, eating, and sleeping routine. The differential is eight or nine hours when the races are being held in California, as is the case in 2016.
Second, the horses must endure long air travel and possible jet lag, especially to get to Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles.
Third, the horses must race counterclockwise rather than the clockwise manner in which they are most familiar.
Fourth, the weather of much of Western Europe can be significantly cooler than in sunny Southern California.
In the case of a European grass horse competing in a dirt race, surface becomes a fifth potential disadvantage.
To estimate weather effects on European horses, consider statistics from the previous 32 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (1 ½ miles) and the Breeders’ Cup Mile (turf).
From 1984 through 2015, the record of European-based horses in the Breeders’ Cup Turf stands at 17 wins for a 53% win percentage. The win percentage is 47% at warm-weather sites and 59% at non-warm-weather sites. (Warm weather sites were Gulfstream Park in Florida, the now-defunct Hollywood Park in California, Lone Star Park in Texas, and Santa Anita Park in California.)
During the same 32-year period of races, European-based horses in the Breeders’ Cup Mile had a 44% record overall. This broke down to 53% at the warm-weather sites and 35% at the colder venues.
Now, how did the time-differential effect come into play, if at all?
From 1984 through 2015, European horses in the Breeders’ Cup Turf won 55% of the time when the races were held at California racetracks compared to 52% when the races were held at racetracks in the eastern time zone (with the exception of the central time zone in 2004).
In the Breeders’ Cup Mile, European horses had a 73% win percentage at the California racetracks in contrast to 29% at other racetracks.
In sum, historical evidence is inconclusive as to whether European-based horses do better in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in a warmer or colder climate, whereas European horses in the Breeders’ Cup Mile much prefer a warmer climate. European horses performed about the same in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in eastern and western U. S. time zones, but European horses performed dramatically better in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the western time zone.
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