Keeler Johnson's 2019 Breeders' Cup Selections

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

It's an exciting time for racing fans! The 2019 Breeders' Cup World Championships will be held on November 1-2 at Santa Anita, with talented horses from around the globe vying for victory in fourteen rich races.

Dirt and grass, sprints and routes, fillies and mares, colts and geldings, juveniles and older runnners—there's something for everyone at the Breeders' Cup, presumably including winning favorites and victorious longshots.

Let's take a look at each race:

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint

Top Selection: #9 Four Wheel Drive is 2-for-2 for trainer Wesley Ward, a master at conditioning juvenile sprinters. This son of American Pharoah debuted in the Rosie's Stakes at Colonial Downs and won easily by 3 ¼ lengths over next-out stakes winner So Street, then came back and cruised to a decisive three-length score in the Futurity Stakes (G3) at Belmont. Four Wheel Drive boasts the best Beyer speed figures in the field and should be up on the pace from the start. He's a deserving favorite with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle.

Second Choice: Ward's filly #7 Kimari is 3-for-4, with her only loss coming by a head in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) over the straight course at Royal Ascot in England. She subsequently came back and crushed next-out Natalma Stakes (G1) winner Abscond by four lengths while leading all the way Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga, after which she somehow produced an explosive rally from dead last to win the Indiana Summer Stakes at Keeneland. This obviously talented daughter of Munnings is a must-use in multi-race wagers.

Live Longshot: I think the European shippers will find this five-furlong American dash too sharp to handle, though #8 Dr Simpson offers some appeal as a longshot since she's 2-for-2 racing over left-handed courses. A Group 3 winner, Dr Simpson broke her maiden at Chester, a nearly round one-mile course with a short straight not dissimilar to an American racecourse.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Top Selection: Trainer Aidan O'Brien has won this race four times and could nab another with the well-bred #13 Fort Myers. By War Front out of Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1) winner Marvellous, Fort Myers hasn't been disgraced in four tries against group stakes company and was beaten less than two lengths by heralded stablemate #12 Arizona in the Coventry Stakes (G2) at Ascot. Unlike Arizona, Fort Myers has experience racing around turns and is actually 2-for-2 over the left-handed synthetic course at Dundalk, where two of O'Brien's previous Juvenile Turf winners (Hit It a Bomb and George Vancouver) recorded victories prior to their Breeders' Cup success. Fort Myers will need to avoid racing wide from post thirteen, but he's bred to handle a mile and might appreciate the course configuration more than Arizona.

Live Longshot: #5 Vitalogy was compromised by a slow pace when charging late to finish third in the Summer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine, then raced wide every step of the way in the Bourbon Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. Despite rallying from last place in a race dominated by speed horses, Vitalogy missed by just a neck in while lugging in down the stretch. With a better setup and a more focused late rally, Vitalogy can vie for victory in the Juvenile Turf.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top Selection: The Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont has produced five of the last dozen Juvenile Fillies winners, and #7 Wicked Whisper can follow this winning profile. An impressive 6 ¼-length debut winner at Saratoga, Wicked Whisper had no trouble stretching out in distance for the Frizette, seizing the lead at the start and widening from there to score by 2 ¾ lengths over the Grade 1-placed Frank's Rockette. Wicked Whisper sprinted the final quarter-mile in a solid :24.80 while posting an 87 Beyer and figures to work out a forwardly-placed trip over this deep and tiring track.

Vulnerable Favorite: #1 Donna Veloce debuted in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita on September 28 and looked great pulling away to win by 9 ¼ effortless lengths with a 91 Beyer. This daughter of Uncle Mo clearly has talent, but she benefited from a speed-favoring track on debut and is taking a big step up in class and distance for the Juvenile Fillies. It's worth noting every winner of the Juvenile Fillies had previously contested at least one stakes race prior to the Breeders' Cup.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Selection: Trainer Chad Brown has won this race five times, usually with winners of Belmont's Miss Grillo Stakes (G2), so I'll put my faith in his latest Miss Grillo winner, #13 Selflessly. After unleashing a huge late run to finish second in her debut sprinting at Saratoga, Selflessly stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the Miss Grillo and promptly beat P.G. Johnson Stakes winner #7 Crystalle by half a length. She'll need some luck to avoid a wide trip from post thirteen, but she's worth the risk if her enticing 8-1 morning line odds hold up.

Second Choice: #12 Sweet Melania just missed against Crystalle in the P.G. Johnson Stakes, then shipped to Keeneland for the Jessamine Stakes (G2) and parlayed a pace-pressing trip into a powerful 5 ½-length triumph over a "good" course. She made a great impression visually and may have turned a corner, but the wide draw and return to firm turf are question marks.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Top Selection: #5 Scabbard endured a tough trip in the Iroquois Stakes (G3), steadying hard on the far turn and losing a lot of ground and momentum. He could have given up, but instead he re-rallied and came charging down the stretch to finish just 1 ¾ lengths behind Juvenile favorite #1 Dennis' Moment. If not for the traffic incident, Scabbard might have given Dennis' Moment a run for the money. For the Juvenile, Scabbard will pick up the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, and he might be poised for a perfect setup if Dennis' Moment (breaking from the rail) locks horns with key rival and fellow speedster #6 Eight Rings in the early going. Call it a hunch, but I think Scabbard has a live upset chance.

Second Choice: #1 Dennis' Moment is the fastest horse in terms of Beyer speed figures and won with something left in the Iroquois Stakes. He's been training sharply and figures to set the pace while breaking from the rail, likely an advantage over this deep and tiring track, but we'll have to see how he handles the pressure if Eight Rings gets aggressive in pushing the pace.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Selection: #4 Come Dancing has blossomed into a high-class sprinter this season, most notably winning the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (G1) at Saratoga by 3 ½ lengths after rallying into slow fractions. She's the fastest horse in the field by virtue of the 114 Beyer she posted when crushing the Distaff Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct by 7 ¾ lengths in the spring, but beyond her speed figures, I'm most excited to support Come Dancing because she's demonstrated the stamina to compete at a high level over longer distances.

During the spring, Come Dancing won the Ruffian Stakes (G2) going a mile and finished second behind Breeders' Cup Distaff favorite Midnight Bisou in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipp Stakes (G1), and this miler stamina could come in handy over the tiring track at Santa Anita. Come Dancing is versatile in terms of running style and should sit a perfect trip just off the speed while breaking from post four. From there, she can pounce to victory in the homestretch.

Vulnerable Favorite: Unique Bella, Carina Mia, Cavorting, Turbulent Descent, Champagne d'Oro, Indian Blessing, La Traviata—these seven sophomore fillies were all favored to win the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, yet all were defeated and only Indian Blessing cracked the trifecta. Three-year-olds have had a tough time in this competitive seven-furlong race, and #1 Covfefe could likewise be vulnerable as the 2-1 morning line favorite. She's shown flashes of brilliance this season, firing off a pair of 107 Beyers in addition to defeating Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress in the Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. But this speedy daughter of Into Mischief has drawn the rail and won't get a chance to relax early on, not with #2 Danuska's My Girl, #3 Heavenhasmynikki, and #7 Selcourt likely to join her in a battle for early supremacy. Keep in mind, Covfefe was beaten by older mares in the six-furlong Roxelana Stakes when forced to set a pressured pace on the rail.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Top Selection: #1 Totally Boss is a nose away from being 5-for-5 this year and was a comfortable winner of the Runhappy Turf Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs last time out. Five furlongs might be a hair short for this son of Street Boss, though he did win his lone start over this distance at Indiana Grand. A versatile runner, Totally Boss can track slow fractions, but seems best when allowed to rally from behind in fast-paced events. Just look at his victory two starts back in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint Stakes at Ellis Park—he settled five lengths behind an opening quarter in :21.32, rallied into the teeth of a :43.48 half-mile, and flew home to win in the course-record time of 1:00.26 for 5 ½ furlongs. Totally Boss is improving at the right time and just needs a clean trip from the rail to vie for victory.

Second Choice: #10 Eddie Haskell boasts a 14-9-3-2 record sprinting five furlongs and just missed over this course and distance in the Eddie D. Stakes (G2) on September 27, coming up a half-length short after getting shuffled off the pace. This was a tough trip and an impressive performance from a gelding who typically races closer to the pace, so he'll be dangerous if able to work out a forwardly-placed trip under jockey Joel Rosario.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Top Selection: I outlined last week why I believe #5 Omaha Beach is a lock to win the Dirt Mile, and I see no reason to change my opinion. His victories running long in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) were terrific since he demonstrated the ability to make a mid-race move, settle back down, and re-accelerate on cue in the homestretch. His return from a layoff in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) was impressive as well since he cut back to six furlongs for the first time and produced a determined rally up the rail to defeat Breeders' Cup Sprint contender Shancelot with a career-best 103 Beyer.

If Omaha Beach had fired off this huge effort in a two-turn route, I would be concerned about a bounce. Instead, the Sprint Championship was more of a stiff workout, and Omaha Beach has continued to train sharply at Santa Anita, suggesting he's ready for another big effort on Saturday. I'll be surprised if he is beaten.

Live Longshot: #9 Diamond Oops has posted some sharp workouts on grass at Palm Meadows, including seven furlongs in a quick 1:22 2/5 on October 25. This son of Lookin At Lucky was beaten less than a length when second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, so we know he can carry his speed against tough competition in a two-turn mile. He's also demonstrated strong form on dirt, winning the Smile Sprint Stakes (G2) and finishing second behind Breeders' Cup Sprint contender Imperial Hint in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1). This talented gelding is one of the fastest horses on paper and appears poised for a big run, yet he's 15-1 on the morning line. Count me in!

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Top Selection: The three-year-old European shipper #1 Iridessa has demonstrated the speed to win high-class mile events like the Fillies' Mile (G1) and Matron Stakes (G1), which bodes well for her chances of success over a tight-turning U.S. turf course. But she's also shown stamina, defeating older mares (including Arlington Million runner-up Magic Wand) in the 1 ¼-mile Pretty Polly Stakes (G1). This improving filly has won over left-handed courses and was an eye-catching four-length debut winner over the tight-turning course at Killarney as a juvenile. She'll race on Lasix for the first time this Saturday and could sit a perfect ground-saving trip while breaking from the rail. At 8-1, Iridessa strikes me as a great price play.

Second Choice: There's really no reason to dislike defending Filly & Mare Turf winner #2 Sistercharlie, who has won six consecutive Group 1 races. Trainer Chad Brown has won this race four times since 2012, and Sistercharlie enjoyed an easy prep run in a slow-paced renewal of the Flower Bowl Stakes (G1), basically sprinting just a half-mile or so to win comfortably. The only problem is her price—she's 8-5 on the morning line while facing a deep field of European challengers. That's a short price to accept, especially since clean trips on turf are never a given.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Top Selection: Three-year-olds have a strong record in the Sprint, and #6 Shancelot owns the field's best Beyer speed figure, having thrown down a jaw-dropping 121 when crushing the 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam Stakes (G2) at Saratoga by 12 ½ lengths. Shancelot essentially ran out of his skin that day, widening at will while posting fractions of :21.79, :43.94, 1:07.63, and 1:14.01.

A dead rail and a closer-favoring track bias compromised Shancelot's chances in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1), which he lost by a head, and he was beaten by an identical margin in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) at Santa Anita. In the latter race, Shancelot drifted wide off the turn and allowed Omaha Beach to slip through along the rail, a strategic error that might have made the difference between victory and defeat.

In any case, Shancelot ran a big race in his own right and has come back to post a couple of bullet half-mile workouts at Santa Anita. With Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz accepting the mount for the first time, I'm optimistic Shancelot's speed will be aggressively put to use in a quest to out-duel his older rivals. Having a prep run over the track is a positive.

Second Choice: Will the third time be the charm for #9 Imperial Hint? Twice placed in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Imperial Hint has been in peak form this summer and fall, dominating the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga in track-record time before battling to a gutsy victory in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) at Belmont. Imperial Hint set the pace in the Vosburgh, but is arguably better when allowed to track fast fractions. Having drawn post nine for the Sprint, Imperial Hint should be able to sit a perfect trip stalking Mitole and Shancelot before pouncing in the stretch. He'll definitely be included in my multi-race wagers, along with #1 Catalina Cruiser, who just needs a clean trip from the rail to contend.

Vulnerable Favorite: #4 Mitole has been terrific this year with five wins from six starts, rattling off Grade 1 triumphs in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), Metropolitan Handicap (G1), and Forego Stakes (G1). But his signature victories have all come running seven furlongs or farther, distances that typically feature slower early fractions. In his five victories this year, Mitole hasn't run an opening quarter-mile faster than :22 1/5. In contrast, when Mitole broke poorly in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) and rushed up to battle through a :21.77 quarter, he wound up weakening down the lane to finish 7 ½ lengths behind Imperial Hint. In short, I wonder if Mitole lacks the pure speed to compete in an intense six-furlong dash against elite sprinters, especially while drawn inside of his key pace rivals.

Breeders' Cup Mile

Top Selection: #6 Got Stormy has blossomed into a high-class miler for trainer Mark Casse, who saddled the filly Tepin to win this race in 2015. After trouncing males in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, winning in the course-record time of 1:32 flat, the normally late-running Got Stormy arguably moved prematurely in the Woodbine Mile (G1), tracking a half-mile in :44.43 and taking command through six furlongs in 1:08.33 before getting edged out late by the ground-saving #8 El Tormenta. assigned the Woodbine Mile a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 98 on their 1-to-100 scale, signifying a strongly closer-favoring race. This means Got Stormy ran even better than it appears at first glance, a scary proposition for her Breeders' Cup rivals. With her perfect blend of tactical speed and finishing power, Got Stormy looms as the horse to beat in the Mile.

Vulnerable Favorite: #9 Circus Maximus is a high-class miler, having won the St. James's Palace Stakes (G1) and Prix du Moulin de Loncghamp (G1) in Europe this season. It's also encouraging to note that he won the Dee Stakes at Chester during the spring, so we know he can handle relatively sharp left-handed turns.

But Circus Maximus strikes me as more of a speedy grinder than a sprinter/miler with a brilliant turn-of-foot, which is often a prerequisite for winning the Breeders' Cup Mile. This race tends to unfold at a fast clip, particularly when held at Santa Anita, so Circus Maximus might have to run harder than usual to maintain good position during the early going. From there, I wonder if his finishing speed will be blunted, especially while racing over a dry course possibly firmer than he prefers. It's also worth mentioning trainer Aidan O'Brien is 0-for-23 in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Top Selection: #5 Dunbar Road showed off her stamina in the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, rallying strongly to defeat next-out Cotillion Stakes (G1) winner #3 Street Band by 2 ¾ lengths. Subsequently, Dunbar Road faced older mares in the Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and ran a big race in defeat. Trapped along the inside on a day when the rail appeared to be the worst part of the track, Dunbar Road tenaciously fought her way into contention at the eighth pole before settling for third place, beaten just 1 ¼ lengths for all the money and less than a length by Breeders' Cup Classic contender Elate.

Sophomore fillies have a strong record in the Distaff (at least one has cracked the exacta every year since 2010), and with a clean trip over a fair track, Dunbar Road can take a big step forward.

Second Choice: #4 Midnight Bisou is the obvious choice to win the Distaff, having gone 7-for-7 against graded stakes company this season. But she's been on the go almost non-stop for two years and had to work harder than expected to put away #6 Wow Cat after sitting a perfect trip in the September 28 Beldame Stakes (G2). Can Midnight Bisou win the Distaff? Absolutely, and she'll be on all my tickets. But at 6-5 on the morning line she doesn't offer much value, especially after an action-packed campaign.

Breeders' Cup Turf

Top Selection: I've gushed on several occasions during the last year about the immense talent and sensational finishing speed of #9 Bricks and Mortar. A four-time Grade 1 winner, Bricks and Mortar is stretching out to 1 ½ miles for the first time, but the relentless (and legitimately fast) rallies he's unleashed this season suggest he'll have no trouble negotiating a longer distance. Just look at his performance in the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million, in which he rallied at will after waiting in traffic to win comfortably with a :22 1/5 final quarter. The European contingent in this year's Turf is weaker than usual, so Bricks and Mortar rates a strong chance to nab a victory for the home team.

Second Choice: Trainer Charlie Appleby is 3-for-6 in the Breeders' Cup, and one of his defeats came by a neck with Wild Illusion in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. #10 Old Persian might not be quite up to the Group 1 level in Europe, but he defeated a handful of quality Japanese runners in the 1 ½-mile Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) in Dubai and recently scored a comfortable victory in the 1 ½-mile Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine. With a 5-for-8 record over the distance of the Breeders' Cup Turf, Old Persian is a logical alternative to Bricks and Mortar if you doubt the latter's ability to stretch out over 1 ½ miles.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Top Selection: #7 Higher Power has improved in leaps and bounds since being transferred to trainer John Sadler in California. Two starts back, when transitioning from turf to dirt, he obliterated nine rivals (including future Grade 1 winner #9 Mongolian Groom) by 5 ¼ lengths in the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, tracking the pace before powering clear over a deep and tiring track to win with a 107 Beyer.

Nothing went right for Higher Power in the September 28 Awesome Again Stakes (G1), considering he stumbled at the start and fell back to last place while chasing slow fractions over a speed-favoring track. Despite these obstacles, Higher Power fought on to finish third behind Mongolian Groom with a 99 Beyer, decent considering the circumstances. assigned the Awesome Again a speed-favoring CFR of 9, which puts a number on the difficulty of the task Higher Power was facing. Considering he also encountered a CFR of 5 when charging to finish second in the Wickerr Stakes on grass three starts back, it's safe to say Higher Power's recent defeats have been better efforts than they first appear.

As a son of noted stamina influence Medaglia d'Oro out of a mare by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Higher Power is as stoutly-bred as they come and should relish the return to 1 ¼ miles. With the speedy Preakness Stakes (G1) winner #4 War of Will drawn to his inside while adding blinkers, Higher Power might sit a perfect trip stalking War of Will, working out a similar journey to the one he received in the Pacific Classic. In a wide-open race, Higher Power offers a lot of positives, including his 6-1 morning line odds.

Second Choice: #10 Vino Ross won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) over this track and distance in May and recently led from start to finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), only to be disqualified for impeding #11 Code of Honor in the homestretch. A son of Curlin out of a Street Cry mare, Vino Rosso has always shown talent and fired off a career-best Beyer while removing blinkers in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He's essentially a grinder without much acceleration, but this style can be dangerous over the tiring track at Santa Anita. If Vino Rosso can secure a forwardly-placed position from post ten, he could be tough to wear down in the homestretch.

Vulnerable Favorite: On his best day, #8 McKinzie can be brilliant—just look at his powerful triumph in the Whitney Stakes (G1) two starts back. Like Higher Power, he was compromised by a slow pace and speed-favoring track in the Awesome Again, but McKinzie was also favored at 3-10 and simply flattened out after looming up alongside Mongolian Groom at the eighth pole. For a horse of McKinzie's talent, it's surprising to note he's just 2-for-6 this season, having lost a handful of races he was fully expected to win. I wonder if 1 ¼ miles might be pushing the limits of his stamina, especially over the tiring track at Santa Anita.

Now 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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