Keeler Johnson's 2018 Breeders' Cup Selections

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Get ready, everyone! The 2018 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs kick off tomorrow afternoon, and in preparation for the two fantastic days of racing, I've compiled what might be the longest Unlocking Winners blog post of all time—some 6,500 words analyzing all fourteen races.

As suggested by one of my Twitter followers, I've added a new feature to my Breeders' Cup selections this year—a "Confidence Level" rating that ranks how confident I am that my top choice will win. The ratings range from "1" (translation: I'm taking a stab with a longshot) to "5" (I'll be legitimately surprised if this pick loses), and I hope they'll provide a little deeper insight into my plays.

Without further ado, let's get started!

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint

Top Selection: Trainer Wesley Ward has made a name for himself conditioning brilliant two-year-old sprinters, so it's no surprise that he'll be represented by four of the twelve starters in this race. My preference among his quartet is for the filly #4 Stillwater Cove, who beat stablemate Chelsea Cloisters convincingly in the 5 ½-furlong Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga before attempting to stretch her speed to a mile in the Natalma Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine. It was her performance in the latter race that really caught my eye, as Stillwater Cove tracked a very fast pace before seizing command to lead by a length at the eighth pole. While she ultimately tired to finish fifth, she was only beaten four lengths and should relish the cutback in distance for the Juvenile Turf Sprint. Is she the most likely winner? Probably not. But at 20-1, she seems like a significant overlay and I'm expecting a very good run for my money. Confidence Level: 2

Second Choice: #8 Sergei Prokofiev ran well in his debut over the left-handed all-weather course at Dundalk, which is a subtle but perhaps significant fact in his favor since several of the other well-regarded European shippers in this race have never run over a turning course. Sergei Prokofiev's overall race record is actually similar to that of his Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate Declarationofpeace, who won last year's Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar before the race had been deemed an official Breeders' Cup event. Both colts found themselves overmatched in the Phoenix Stakes (Ire-I) and the Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I), two of Europe's most prestigious sprints for juveniles, but both colts also ran well at Dundalk, and Sergei Prokofiev actually achieved a pretty high level of form (quite a bit higher than Declarationofpeace) while winning the Cornwallis Stakes (Eng-III) at Newmarket last month with a 103 Timeform Rating. O'Brien's top jockey Ryan Moore has the mount, which is always a good sign.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Selection: Ask me for my best bet of the Breeders' Cup, regardless of odds, and I'll quickly point you toward #6 Newspaperofrecord. Trainer Chad Brown has won this race four times, including three times in the last four years, and I expect him to secure a fifth victory with this Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega. Quite simply, Newspaperofrecord has looked like a beast in her first two starts, breaking her maiden by 6 ¾ lengths with a pace-tracking trip at Saratoga before employing front-running tactics to crush eight rivals by 6 ½ lengths in the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. II). Both of those races were contested over yielding turf courses, so the soft course expected on Friday should be no obstacle for Newspaperofrecord. She's drawn well in post position six, has the tactical speed to stay out of trouble, and hasn't been remotely challenged in her first two starts. What's not to like? I think it's going to take a monstrous effort to beat her. Confidence Level: 5

Second Choice: #13 My Gal Betty may have moved hair too soon when finishing second in the Natalma Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine last time out, but she was only beaten a length on the day and is already proven over yielding ground, having won the Catch a Glimpse Stakes at Woodbine by 4 ¼ lengths. Interestingly, the last three times the Breeders' Cup has been held in Kentucky, the Juvenile Fillies Turf winner prepped in the Natalma, which seems to be part of a greater trend of Woodbine-based turf runners faring better than usual when the Breeders' Cup is held in Kentucky. My Gal Betty might not beat Newspaperofrecord, but I do think she can finish on the board at a nice price.

Live Longshot: #9 Varenka has been beaten in all three of her starts, but that includes a couple of runner-up efforts in stakes races conducted over yielding turf courses. Last time out, she was no match for Newspaperofrecord in the Miss Grillo Stakes, but Varenka did finish clearly best of the rest with a rally from the back half of the field. For the Breeders' Cup, she picks up the services of the Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz, and with the right trip, she could be involved late at 20-1.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top Selection: I could go a lot of different directions here, but ultimately, I'm going to bank on the notion that #2 Serengeti Empress might just be a star in the making. Her effortless 13 ½-length victory in the seven-furlong Ellis Park Debutante Stakes was impressive to behold, given how she set a quick pace and just powered clear of her rivals in the homestretch, but she looked even better stretching out to 8.5 furlongs in the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) over the same track and distance as the Juvenile Fillies, drawing away with complete authority to win by 19 ½ lengths. There are several other front-runners in this field and I'm a little concerned about Serengeti Empress getting burned up on the front end, but I also don't think we've seen the best she has to offer yet. Drawing post two should help her save ground on the turns, and her 7-2 morning line odds seem quite fair. Confidence Level: 3

Second Choice: #10 Bellafina has done little wrong in her first four starts, which includes three straight graded stakes victories in California by a minimum of 4 ¼ lengths. She's got lots of speed and has shown the ability to rate off the lead, which is always a plus, but she has not been finishing particularly fast and I wonder if she could be a little vulnerable today while trying to work out a good trip from the outside post in a field where many of her rivals share her running style.

Live Longshot: There's a ton of speed in this field, and not many of the top contenders have shown the ability to finish fast, so I can certainly envision a scenario where the Juvenile Fillies falls apart late and the door opens for a filly like #1 Reflect to come running late and finish on the board. Trained by Keith Desormeaux, Reflect showed some talent sprinting this summer, but took a big step forward when stretched out around two turns for the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I). In that race, Reflect broke from the rail and seemed a bit rank and uncomfortable racing inside and behind horses, even tossing her head around at one point, but when she got running room, she came on with a nice rally to finish second and was gaining on the winner late. Had she been able to make an earlier move, the outcome might have been different. At 15-1, she's definitely one I'll use in the exotics and even the multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Top Selection: I outlined last week why I believe #14 Anthony Van Dyck is the most likely winner of the Juvenile Turf, and while I'm not thrilled to see him draw the far outside post position, I think wide draws are sometimes overestimated at the Breeders' Cup and I'm not going to jump off the bandwagon for this reason alone. Remember, Hit It a Bomb won the Juvenile Turf from post #14 in 2015, and the following year Oscar Performance prevailed from the #13 stall. Good horses can overcome poor post draws, and I think Anthony Van Dyck is a very good horse. Confidence Level: 4

Second Choice: As I mentioned last week, #5 Line of Duty showed a nice turn-of-foot to overcome a troubled trip and win the Prix de Conde (Fr-III) last month at Chantilly, and the third-place finisher—the filly Wonderment—gave the form of that race a boost by coming right back to beat some quality colts in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I). Trainer Charlie Appleby has won with two of his three Breeders' Cup starters so far, and I think Line of Duty is very well-meant in this race.

Live Longshot: With plenty of rain expected at Churchill Downs this week, the turf should be soft and that could benefit #6 Henley's Joy. The progeny of Kitten's Joy tend to excel on soft turf, and Henley's Joy has already shown a lot of potential on firm turf, winning his debut and the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes before finishing second by just a nose in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland. I think he'll drift up from his 8-1 morning line odds and offer value for the exotics.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Top Selection: There isn't much wagering value in this opinion, but I have been very impressed by #9 Game Winner this year and believe he's a cut above his rivals in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trained by Bob Baffert, who has won this race three times before, Game Winner is unbeaten in three starts and has already established his class by winning the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I) in succession with eye-catching Beyer speed figures of 93 and 97. Even better, Game Winner is versatile and can rate behind the leaders, which could be very valuable given that this Juvenile field is packed with front-runners and speed horses. I envision Game Winner sitting a perfect trip a few lengths off the pace before rallying to win at a short price. Confidence Level: 4

Second Choice: #6 Complexity is also unbeaten and made a terrific visual impression winning the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) by three lengths in gate-to-wire fashion. His connections have voiced some concerns about his ability to handle longer distances, and the Juvenile could be a stiff test since he'll be tackling two turns for the first time and facing a field filled with speed, but it's obvious that this son of Maclean's Music has a ton of talent and he might just be good enough to overcome the obstacles.

Live Longshot: #12 Gunmetal Gray was no match for Game Winner in the American Pharoah, but he did stay on gamely in the homestretch to secure the runner-up spot with a 90 Beyer, his second strong effort going two turns. Like Game Winner, Gunmetal Gray has shown the ability to settle off the pace, and that could come in handy if the pace is hot and some of the more highly-regarded front-runners start to tire in the homestretch.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Selection: I count at least nine runners in this field who frequently race on or near the lead, which should ensure that the pace of this seven-furlong sprint is hot right from the start. That should play right to the strengths of #13 Marley's Freedom, who has rattled off three straight graded stakes victories for trainer Bob Baffert. The daughter of Blame was particularly impressive while overcoming a wide trip and a slow early pace to rally and win the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, seizing command in the homestretch and pulling away with power to win by 3 ¼ lengths under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. I like how Marley's Freedom ran the third quarter-mile in about :23 1/5 and the final furlong in :12.47 seconds, suggesting that she's very well-suited to this seven-furlong distance.

True, Marley's Freedom hasn't run since August, but the long layoff doesn't bother me since Baffert has won several Breeders' Cup races in recent years with horses returning from similar layoffs—think American Pharoah, Arrogate, and Drefong. For her Ballerina effort, Marley's Freedom earned a 100 Beyer—the second triple-digit number of her career—and if she gets a quicker pace on Saturday, I think she'll come rolling in the homestretch to win again. Confidence Level: 3

Second Choice: #5 Golden Mischief has been steadily progressing this year for trainer Brad Cox and enters the Filly & Mare Sprint off of three straight stakes wins, including a hard-fought triumph in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, which has historically been a very productive prep for this race. Yes, Golden Mischief only won by a head with a 94 Beyer, but take note, the early pace was slow and assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 7, indicating a speed-favoring race, so under the circumstances I give Golden Mischief extra credit for running down the leaders with a final quarter-mile in about :23 2/5. On October 28th, she signaled her readiness for the Breeders' Cup by breezing four furlongs in a bullet :47 flat at Churchill Downs, the fastest of 113 morning workouts at that distance. She looks ready to roll, and if she stays at her 10-1 morning line odds, she might even be a better win play than Marley's Freedom. However, I do expect her odds to drop, perhaps significantly so. In any case, I have a lot of confidence that either Marley's Freedom or Golden Mischief will win this race, and I'd be tempted to use only these two in multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Top Selection: I feel like almost anyone could win this race, so I'll take a shot in the dark with #8 Chanteline, a six-year-old mare who might get overlooked in the wagering. Formerly a capable dirt sprinter, Chanteline has emerged as a force to reckon with on turf over the last year and enters the Turf Sprint off victories in the Smart N Fancy Stakes at Saratoga and the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga. In both races, she settled in fourth place before rallying in the final furlong while earning Beyers of 104 and 99, the two best numbers of her career. Runners that prepped at Keeneland have fared very well when the Turf Sprint has been held in Kentucky, and Chanteline ran reasonably well over a soft turf course in the Caress Stakes at Saratoga three starts back, finishing second after tracking quick early fractions. I wouldn't go about singling her in any multi-race wagers, but her 15-1 morning line odds are appealing and I think she's got as good a chance as anyone else to win this race. Confidence Level: 1

Second Choice: The condition of the turf course shouldn't be an issue for #11 World of Trouble, a three-year-old who is 2-for-2 on turf, with both of those victories coming in stakes races over rain-soaked courses. In the 5 ½-furlong Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga, he used his speed to win in gate-to-wire fashion, while in the six-furlong Allied Forces Stakes at Belmont, he tracked a fast opening quarter-mile before taking command and powering away to score by 5 ¾ lengths with a 103 Beyer. He also showed his class against high-quality dirt horses while finishing just a neck behind the four-time graded stakes winner Promises Fulfilled in the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II), a race in World of Trouble made a middle move into a blazing :43 3/5 half-mile fraction. 6-1 seems like a bit of a short price in this wide-open field, but I don't think he's overmatched here, even while facing older runners for the first time.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Top Selection: I had originally intended to pick #1 City of Light in this spot, and I still respect his chances a great deal—he's a two-time Grade 1 winner, he's won going as far as nine furlongs in top company, and he had a very wide trip when second in the Forego Stakes (gr. I) last time out. But wouldn't you know it, I've talked myself into picking #3 Isotherm instead, and while that might seem crazy at first glance, let me outline my reasoning.

Ever since he broke his maiden going two turns on grass in 2015, Isotherm has been campaigned primarily as a turf horse, and for logical reasons—he's a two-time graded stakes winner over the surface. But his connections have occasionally tried him on dirt, running him against high-class competition in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the 2017 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), and while he was never a serious factor in either race, the fact that he was tried on dirt at all speaks of his connections' belief that he might be able to handle the surface.

Interestingly, Isotherm returned to dirt again this summer after a string of defeats on grass and showed new life, finishing second with a wide trip behind the capable Dabster in the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes going a two-turn mile at Del Mar. He then stepped up sharply in class for the nine-furlong Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita and ran one of the best races of his career. After tracking the pace in third place, Isotherm made a strong mid-race move (third quarter in less than :24 seconds) to challenge for the lead around the far turn, and after staying in contention to the eighth pole, he flattened out only slightly to finish third behind the Breeders' Cup Classic favorites Accelerate and West Coast. Remarkably, he was beaten just a half-length by West Coast.

Obviously, this was a big step in the right direction for Isotherm, and the way he ran—making a mid-race move and then flattening out—suggests to me that he's a horse that might appreciate the cutback to a one-turn mile. The two previous Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winners at Churchill Downs were cutting back in distance from longer races, including Dakota Phone, who upset the 2010 Dirt Mile at odds of 37-1 one start after finishing third in—you guessed it—the Awesome Again (then known as the Goodwood Stakes).

Beyond the two favorites, this Dirt Mile seems pretty wide-open, so at the very least I think Isotherm can offer a lot of value for the trifecta and/or superfecta, And if the pace gets hot up front, maybe—just maybe—he can spring a really memorable upset. Confidence Level: 1

Second Choice: #10 Catalina Cruiser has done nothing wrong in his first four starts, winning them all by a minimum of 2 ¼ lengths while posting Beyers of 89, 107, 107, and 103. He won the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) going 8.5 furlongs by 6 ¾ lengths against a quality field, and he crushed the 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway by 7 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Stakes last time out. If Catalina Cruiser brings his A-game, he'll be tough to beat, but the son of Union Rags hasn't run since August, and trainer John Sadler doesn't have the best record with horses returning from layoffs or with shipping horses outside of California. For those reasons, plus the fact that Catalina Cruiser will be a clear favorite, I'm tempted to try to beat him while respecting that he is the most likely winner of the race.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Top Selection: Trainer Chad Brown has won this race three times, and while his #6 Sistercharlie has beaten her stablemate #1 Fourstar Crook twice this year, the latter was able to turn the tables by a head in the 1 ¼-mile New York Stakes (gr. II)—the longest of their three meetings—and I suspect going 1 3/8-miles will further shift the advantage in favor of Fourstar Crook. Whereas Sistercharlie missed her final prep race for the Filly & Mare Turf, Fourstar Crook was able to contest the 1 ¼-mile Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont, in which she rallied from behind a slow pace over a rain-soaked course to win by two lengths. Fourstar Crook has been improving steadily over the last two years and seems to be peaking just in time for the Breeders' Cup. I think she'll relish the conditions on Saturday and can spring a mild upset under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won this race for Brown in 2015 aboard Stephanie's Kitten. Confidence Level: 4

Second Choice: #3 Wild Illusion is a very classy three-year-old with three Group 1 wins under her belt, including a victory over Breeders' Cup Mile entrant Polydream in the Prix Marcel Boussac (Fr-I) over a soft course last year. She also finished second in the Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) over a rain-soaked course, so no matter how wet the turf gets on Saturday, it shouldn't affect her chances. She enters the Breeders' Cup off decisive wins in the Nassau Stakes (Eng-I) and Prix de l'Opera Longine (Fr-I), both going 1 ¼ miles, and as mentioned previously, trainer Charlie Appleby has fared very well with his previous Breeders' Cup starters, even winning this race last year with Wuheida.

Wild Illusion might not have the most breathtaking turn-of-foot, but the Churchill Downs homestretch is a bit longer than at most U.S. tracks, so that should help Wild Illusion's chances a bit. The 1 3/8-mile distance of the Filly & Mare Turf could also be an equalizer since she boasts very high-class form going 1 ½ miles. For my top choice, this race is really a tossup between Wild Illusion and Fourstar Crook; I'll use them both equally in the multi-race wagers.

Live Longshot: #14 Eziyra didn't get the best draw, but this lightly-raced four-year-old has run very, very well over wet courses in Europe, most recently winning the Blandford Stakes (Eng-II) over yielding ground at the Curragh. Her best Timeform Ratings aren't far behind those posted by Wild Illusion, and Eziyra's lone defeat this year came in the prestigious Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I), where she finished behind only the high-class fillies Sea of Class (runner-up in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe) and Coronet. For good measure, she's run very well over left-handed courses at Leopardstown, York, and Tipperary, and the legendary jockey Frankie Dettori will be in the saddle.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Top Selection: Three-year-olds have historically fared well in the Sprint, including three winners since 2012, and I'm expecting #2 Promises Fulfilled to become the latest sophomore to defeat his elders at the Breeders' Cup. This sensationally fast son of Shackleford has wicked early speed—enough to run a half-mile in :43-and-change on two occasions this summer—and while he won the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (gr. I) going seven furlongs at Saratoga, I think he might be even better going six furlongs. Certainly he was impressive over this distance in the Phoenix Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland last month, in which he sprinted the first two quarters in :22.50 and :22.59, but still came home in a strong :23.96 to defeat the very capable older sprinters Whitmore and Limousine Liberal in a tight finish.

Notably, Promises Fulfilled appears to have missed a workout prior to the Phoenix since he entered the race with no official breezes in two weeks; that won't be the case on Saturday, as he worked a half-mile in a solid :48 2/5 on October 28th. I expect to see Promises Fulfilled sprint hard for the lead from post position two, and from there, it could be easier said than done for any of his older rivals to run him down. Confidence Level: 3

Second Choice: The favorite #5 Imperial Hint would be the obvious choice, but while he showed brilliance in his two Grade 1 wins this year, he was also facing fields of overall questionable quality, and when he faced the much tougher Witmore in the True North Stakes (gr. II), he was all-out to win by a neck. At 9-5, I view Imperial Hint as an underlay, so for my second choice I'll take #8 Limousine Liberal. The six-year-old gelding is a true "horse for the course" with a 6-for-8 record at Churchill Downs, but his recent form has been slightly sullied by tough trips, which should ensure that he starts at a nice price. In the Forego Stakes (gr. I) two starts back, he endured a very wide trip but was beaten just 1 ½ lengths at the finish by Whitmore and City of Light, and in the Phoenix Stakes against Promises Fulfilled and Whitmore, he never got a clear run down the homestretch but was still beaten just a half-length despite this traffic-filled trip. I think Limousine Liberal might be a bit better going seven furlongs than six, but his obvious affinity for Churchill Downs is a big asset, and if he finally gets a reasonable trip, he can be right there at the finish.

Breeders' Cup Mile

Top Selection: No, this is not a sentimental play, though I'm sure longtime readers of this blog are well aware that I've been a big fan of #15 Divisidero for years. As a one-dimensional deep closer, this son of Kitten's Joy has been frequently compromised by slow paces, but he seems relatively immune to such scenarios when racing at Churchill Downs, where he's won three of his four starts. That includes two renewals of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I), in which the runners-up were the high-class World Approval (winner of the 2017 Breeders' Cup Mile) and Beach Patrol (second in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Turf). Furthermore, I think Divisidero would be unbeaten in four starts at Churchill Downs if not for a tough trip in the Wise Dan Stakes (gr. II) back in June, in which he got shuffled back in traffic around the far turn, but came running strongly when finally in the clear to be beaten less than a length.

Need any more reasons to consider Divisidero? Let me offer a few....

1.     He's proven over wet courses, having won the 2017 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic over a course officially labeled "good," but which seemed quite a bit softer than that.

2.     He's consistent if nothing else; if you like Beyer speed figures, he's cracked the 97 mark in each of his last 16 starts, a streak that includes 11 triple-digit Beyers. None of his North American-based rivals can boast a similar record.

3.     He had absolutely no chance whatsoever in the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) last time out, a race in which the front-running winner Oscar Performance ran the first half-mile in :48.78 and the second half-mile in a blazing :44.34. So extreme was this setup that assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 1 on a scale of 1 to 100—you can't get any more speed-favoring than that. As a result, the Woodbine Mile was essentially a parade from start to finish, so Divisidero deserves some credit for sticking right with that rapid final half-mile to be beaten just 3 ½ lengths.

4.     Four of the last seven Breeders' Cup Mile winners prepped in the Woodbine Mile.

5.     Thanks to the large field, Divisidero might actually get a meaningful pace to close into this time.

How often can you get 30-1 odds on a two-time Grade 1 winner with a strong record over the local course? Even if he doesn't win, Divisidero could give a huge boost to the exotic payoffs in he finishes in the money. I'm definitely not counting him out and believe he has a legitimate chance to win the whole thing. Confidence Level: 2.5

Second Choice: #5 Oscar Performance may have had things his own way in the Woodbine Mile, but regardless, you have to admire a horse who can run the final half-mile of a one-mile race in :44.34 second. That was his second impressive win going a mile this year, following a North American record-equaling run in the Poker Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park, and he's actually unbeaten in three starts going a mile, with his first (and arguably most prestigious) victory over the distance coming in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I).

The field size alone should ensure that the Breeders' Cup Mile unfolds at a somewhat more contested clip than the Woodbine Mile, but on paper, Oscar Performance seems to have a clear pace advantage and should have every chance to work out a winning trip. I actually think he would be an overlay at his 6-1 morning line odds and I will absolutely use him in all my multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Top Selection: Outside of the two favorites, this race looks pretty wide-open, and when you consider that one of the favorites is coming off a career-worst effort and the other is a three-year-old facing older rivals for the first time, maybe this isn't a two-horse race after all. So why not consider #10 Blue Prize? This five-year-old Argentinean-bred mare has won her last three starts at Churchill Downs (all graded stakes races), and I was intrigued by her erratic victory in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland last time out. After seizing command coming off the far turn, Blue Prize wound up wandering to the inside and then ducking out severely, losing a lot of ground in the process. Despite this strange run, Blue Prize held on to win with a reasonably solid 94 Beyer, and I don't think there's any doubt she could have won by much more (and with a much higher Beyer) had she maintained a straight course.

Jockey Joe Bravo was riding Blue Prize for the first time that day, so since he's had a chance to learn some of her quirks, he can hopefully help her stay more focused on Saturday. If one or both of the favorites come up vulnerable, Blue Prize could be poised to capitalize at a nice price. Confidence Level: 2

Second Choice: If not for a disqualification for drifting around in the homestretch of the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I), #11 Monomoy Girl would enter the Distaff having won five consecutive Grade 1 races. Even still, this exciting three-year-old is a neck away from having crossed the wire first in all ten of her starts, a streak that includes three victories in four races at Churchill Downs, most memorably a hard-fought triumph in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She's got plenty of tactical speed and should be able to work out a good trip from her outside draw, though it could be important to make sure she doesn't strike the front too soon, as she's shown a tendency to lose focus on the lead, which proved costly in the Cotillion.

I would be fully on board the Monomoy Girl bandwagon except for the fact that she's never run against older horses and has received some pretty soft pace setups in her most impressive victories. I wonder if a testing nine furlongs might be a hair beyond her best; remember, she had to dig deep to win the Kentucky Oaks, a race that unfolded at only a mildly quicker clip than she typically encounters.

Live Longshot: The rapidly-improving #1 Champagne Problems won the Groupie Doll Stakes (gr. III) this summer and finished second behind Blue Prize in both the Locust Grove Stakes (gr. III) and the Spinster Stakes (gr. I), so if I like Blue Prize, I have to like Champagne Problems by extension. Drawing the rail should help this daughter of Ghostzapper work out a ground-saving trip under the Hall of Fame jockey Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel, and I think she has every chance to finish in the trifecta or superfecta at 12-1.

Breeders' Cup Turf

Top Selection: I outlined two weeks ago why #2 Enable might have the best chance of any horse yet to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and the Breeders' Cup Turf in the same season, and I'll stick by my conviction that she'll get the job done this Saturday. Trained by John Gosden, who has four Breeders' Cup victories on his record, this four-year-old daughter of Nathaniel has shown no difficulty handling soft turf or left-handed turns; in fact, she won the 2017 Cheshire Oaks over the nearly round course at Chester, so the turns at Churchill Downs should be less of a challenge for her than for some European shippers. Also significant is that Enable has plenty of tactical speed and the ability to produce a terrific turn-of-foot in the homestretch, which should help her secure the trip she needs and pounce to the lead when necessary. She'll be a heavy favorite, but I do view her as the most likely winner. Confidence Level: 4

Second Choice: #12 Waldgeist doesn't have quite the same turn-of-foot as Enable, but this son of Galileo is a high-class multiple Group 1 winner with great form at 1 ½ miles, and he was only beaten 1 ¾ lengths in the Arc while weaving his way through traffic in the homestretch. Trainer Andre Fabre has won the Turf three times before, and Waldgeist has handled all sorts of ground conditions throughout his career, so nothing in that regard should bother him on Saturday.

Live Longshot: Maybe #11 Sadler's Joy has lost a step or two over the last few months, or maybe he's been the recipient of some tough trips and setups.  In any case, he was only beaten 2 ¼ lengths in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, and the three-turn configuration of the Turf at Churchill Downs should be right in Sadler's Joy's wheelhouse. As a son of Kitten's Joy, he shouldn't be bothered by the wet conditions on Saturday; indeed, he finished a close third in the Bowling Green Stakes (gr. II) over a soft course at Saratoga this summer, and he was also third with a tricky setup over soft turf in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) last time out. On that day, the inside seemed to be the best part of the course, and Sadler's Joy unleashed an eye-catching rally up the rail on the far turn before flattening out once shifted to the outside. I don't expect him to win, but I do think he can outrun his 30-1 morning line odds and finish in the top four once again.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Top Selection: I pretty much have to pick a longshot here since I'm not overly enthusiastic about the morning line favorites, who all—in my opinion—have some questions to answer. #14 Accelerate has been brilliant this year with four Grade 1 wins (including three over the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic), but he seemed a bit dull in the Awesome Again Stakes last month and his Beyer regressed sharply to a 100, his lowest of the season. Throw in the fact that he's drawn the far outside post and is shipping outside of California for only the second time of his career, and I have to oppose him.

To lesser degrees, I also think #7 West Coast and #6 McKinzie could be vulnerable. West Coast has run just once since March, finishing second in the Awesome Again after appearing to be out of gas on the far turn. That was a solid enough comeback given that he wasn't fully cranked for the race, but his runner-up effort in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) two starts back was also a step down from his previous form, and I do wonder if perhaps he's a little better going shorter than 1 ¼ miles.  As for McKinzie, he's shown flashes of brilliance in his first five starts, but he's lightly-raced, has never negotiated 1 ¼ miles, and has never faced a field remotely this competitive. Another well-regarded contender is #11 Mind Your Biscuits, but while he's got the proven class and is in great form, he's been a sprinter for most of his career and has never tackled 1 ¼ miles-I just think this distance, against this caliber of competition, might be too tough of a test.

That's why I'm going to pin my hopes on #10 Yoshida. A former grass star who won this year's Old Forrester Turf Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, Yoshida made the switch to dirt for the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) two months ago, and his resulting performance was eye-catching. After settling comfortably inside of horses early on, showing no hesitation handling the unfamiliar dirt kickback, Yoshida shifted to the far outside on the final turn and powered relentlessly down the homestretch to catch the leaders and win going away by two lengths. I loved how he finished full of run with a final furlong in less than :12 2/5—to my eye, he was just getting going as he came down to the wire.

Beforehand, the Woodward field was billed as being somewhat weak, but three of the beaten runners have come right back to win graded stakes races, including the third-place finisher Leofric (who won the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland last week) and Discreet Lover (who upset the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup).

The main track at Churchill Downs has a reputation for playing kindly toward turf horses, so if Yoshida can handle the dirt at Saratoga, he might be even better at Churchill Downs. Furthermore, six of the eight renewals of the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs were won by late runners who trailed by significant margins after the opening half-mile, so Yoshida's running style would appear to fit this race and track very well. His trainer, Bill Mott, has already won the Classic twice with Cigar (1995) and Drosselmeyer (2011), and he's given Yoshida a couple of solid workouts at Churchill Downs to prepare him for this race. Call it a hunch, but I'm expecting a big run from Yoshida, and we might even get a better price than his 10-1 morning line odds. Confidence Level: 3

Second Choice: I was all set to pick #2 Roaring Lion until he drew post position two; given that he's never run on dirt before and prefers to race from off the pace, this could potentially leave him boxed in behind horses early on, where we have no idea how he'll react to the kickback.

But on class alone, I'd argue that this three-year-old son of Kitten's Joy might be the best horse in the field. He's a true 1 ¼-mile specialist with the raw talent to compete in high-class races going both longer and shorter, and he's rattled off four straight Group 1 wins in Europe since July, defeating such accomplished runners as Saxon Warrior and Poet's Word in such storied prizes as the Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), Juddmonte International (Eng-I), QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Eng-I), and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I).

Roaring Lion's victory in the Queen Elizabeth II came just two weeks ago, and he had to work hard to win over a soft course that wasn't his preference, but I think the one-mile distance was ideal for getting him to the Classic in top shape. The 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass and the 2000 runner-up Giant's Causeway both used the Queen Elizabeth II as a springboard to their strong efforts in the Classic, though granted, the Queen Elizabeth II used to be held earlier in the year and they had more time recuperate before the Breeders' Cup.

Ultimately, I have just enough questions about Roaring Lion to keep him from being my top choice, but on talent alone he has to be considered a threat and I will use him strongly in multi-race wagers.

Now, after more than 6,500 words, it's your turn! Who do you like in the fourteen Breeders' Cup races?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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