Keeler Johnson’s 2020 Breeders’ Cup Selections

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

It's an exciting time for racing fans! In a year turned upside down due to COVID-19, it's reassuring to see the Breeders' Cup World Championships taking place as scheduled on Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland, with talented horses from around the globe vying for victory in 14 rich races.

In my opinion, many of the races appear ripe for upsets, so longshot winners and impressive payoffs could be the theme of the week. Without further ado, let's dig in and unlock some winners!

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint

Although #14 Golden Pal was beaten in his first two starts, there were extenuating circumstances. In his debut at Gulfstream Park, he lost by less than a length while racing on dirt. Then he traveled to Royal Ascot in England and ran a huge race to finish second by a neck in the Norfolk (G2) behind The Lir Jet, who is slated to compete in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

Golden Pal finally broke through with a victory in the Aug. 21 Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga. After carving out fast splits of :21.99 and :44.37, Golden Pal blazed the fifth furlong in :10.75 and the final sixteenth in :05.76 to win easily by 3 1/2 lengths. His final time of 1:00.88 missed the course record by just 0.67 and translated to impressive speed figures of 92 (Beyer) and 90 (Brisnet).

Trained by Wesley Ward—a master at conditioning 2-year-old sprinters—Golden Pal is a deserving favorite to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. The outside draw is a small concern, but I'm optimistic Golden Pal will break running and never look back. He'll be a short-priced single in all my multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

European raiders have won eight editions of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, which is one reason why I'm keen to back #12 New Mandate. The gelded son of New Bay arrives at Keeneland off three straight victories, including a classy triumph in the 1-mile Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket.

New Mandate handled a sharp right-handed bend at Sandown when breaking his maiden in a 7-furlong handicap event, so I'm confident the tight-turning course at Keeneland will be within New Mandate's scope. As a gelding, New Mandate is ineligible for several of Europe's most prestigious races in 2021, so the Juvenile Turf is perhaps a more important target for New Mandate than some of the other international raiders.

Drawing post two should allow New Mandate to work out a perfect ground-saving trip, and for good measure 14-time Breeders' Cup-winning jockey Frankie Dettori has taken the mount. If New Mandate's 12-1 morning line odds hold up (which I doubt), I'll be delightedI think he's got a big chance to outrun expectations.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Morning line favorite #7 Princess Noor is going to receive a ton of support, and deservedly so. Have you seen how easily she crushed the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G2)? The daughter of Not This Time was never asked for anything at all by jockey Victor Espinoza despite winning by daylight margins.

But Princess Noor has yet to run particularly fast from a Beyer speed figure perspective. It's possible she's capable of running much faster if called upon, but until we actually see Princess Noor lengthen her stride against tough competition, it's hard to know how she'll respond. Maybe she's a monster in the making... or maybe she's been defeating easy fields.

I'm more interested in backing Alcibiades (G1) winner #1 Simply Ravishing and Frizette (G1) winner #3 Dayoutoftheoffice. Like Princess Noor, they bring perfect 3-for-3 records to the mix. But they've also run much faster on the Beyer scale.

Of the pair, I narrowly favor Simply Ravishing, who led all the way to win Keeneland's 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades (G1) by 6 1/4 lengths. Among her beaten rivals were the stakes winners #6 Crazy Beautiful and #4 Thoughtfully, so whereas the quality of competition Princess Noor has defeated is questionable, the same can't be said of Simply Ravishing.

Simply Ravishing has already been mentioned as a candidate for the 2021 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga, so it's safe to say Simply Ravishing's connections hold her in high regard. The fact she's already won a Grade 1 over the track and distance of the Juvenile Fillies is enticing, so I'll plan on playing Simply Ravishing on top.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

There are a lot of different ways to go in this competitive 1-mile heat, which contains a quartet of undefeated fillies. Front-running Jessamine (G2) winner #5 Aunt Pearl and confident Miss Grillo (G2) winner #4 Plum Ali will be popular choices since they're already proven running a mile or farther.

But don't sleep on the accomplished sprinter #10 Campanelle. Trained by Wesley Ward, Campanelle beat stablemate and future Matron (G3) winner Royal Approval in her debut at Gulfstream Park, then embarked on a productive European campaign that saw her post sharp victories in the Queen Mary (G2) and Prix Morny (G1), The latter success even came against males.

With Frankie Dettori in the saddle, Campanelle is a threat to stretch her speed over a mile and add the Juvenile Fillies Turf to her impressive resume. It wouldn't be the first time Ward has succeeded with a strategy like thisin 2014, he sent out Prix Morney winner Hootenanny to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in his route debut. At 4-1, Campanelle strikes me as a solid play.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

#7 Jackie's Warrior is a heavy favorite after posting consecutive victories in the Saratoga Special (G2), Hopeful (G1), and Champagne (G1). The speedy front-runner owns the two fastest Beyer speed figures in the field and will be tough to catch if he brings his A-game.

But Jackie's Warrior has never run around two turns, and he benefited from securing uncontested leads in all three of his graded stakes wins. There's a strong chance he'll be challenged for the lead on Friday, in which case #3 Reinvestment Risk can turn the tables.

In my opinion, Reinvestment Risk was taken out of his game trying to chase/press Jackie's Warrior in both the Hopeful and the Champagne. The son of Upstart doesn't strike me as a speed horse; I think he's more comfortable employing rating tactics, as he did when crushing his debut at Saratoga by 7 3/4 lengths.

Nevertheless, Reinvestment Risk finished second by wide margins in both the Hopeful and Champagne, suggesting he has the talent of a serious racehorse. True, Jackie's Warrior boasts the two fastest Beyers in the field, but the next three fastest all belong the Reinvestment Risk. If Jackie's Warrior falters while stretching out around two turns, Reinvestment Riskwith the benefit of a more relaxed journeycan pick up the pieces and steal the show.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

#2 Gamine is brilliant on her best day, but the runaway Acorn (G1) and Test (G1) winner has never been involved in a race with a sub-:45 half-mile fraction. You can bet your bottom dollar the Filly & Mare Sprint will unfold at a quicker tempo; #7 Serengeti Empress will make sure of that.

Victorious in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1), Serengeti Empress has developed into an elite sprinter this season. In the 7-furlong Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga, Serengeti Empress carved out blistering splits of :21.75 and :43.74 before kicking on to beat Grade 1 winner Bellafina by a length. She nearly pulled off an identical feat in the 7-furlong Derby City Distaff (G1) on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs, dueling for command through fractions of :21.95 and :43.77 before losing by a nose in the final strides.

Serengeti Empress has been freshened since the Derby City Distaff and will reunite with jockey Luis Saez, who rode her to victory in the Ballerina. She'll be tough to catch on Saturday, and anyone who locks horns with her early on figures to pay a price.  Ashland (G1) winner #1 Speech and Derby City Distaff winner #9 Bell's the One can come running late to round out the exotics.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

You could throw darts and probably come up with a satisfying selection in this race. I'll place my faith in the chances of #1 Big Runnuer, who has gone unbeaten in three starts this season.

Much like Serengeti Empress, Big Runnuer is capable of cranking out sub-:44 half-mile splits in his sleep. His speed was certainly on display in the Eddie D (G2) at Santa Anita, as Big Runnuer came barreling out of the gate through splits of :21.96 and :43.98 before cruising home on top by a length.

If Big Runnuer breaks alertly from the rail, I'm not sure anyone can reel him in. He's 4-for-5 sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs and should avoid traffic while taking the shortest route around the track. At 12-1, a win bet would be very appealing.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Trainer Brad Cox was on fire during the Keeneland fall meet, going 15-for-39 (38%), and he can keep his momentum going with #5 Knicks Go. Runner-up in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), Knicks Go has thrived since being transferred to Cox's care for 2020. Just check out Knicks Go's victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Oct. 4 at Keenelandthe son of Paynter led all the way to dominate by 10 1/4 lengths in 1:40.79, breaking the track record.

This effort produced massive speed figures of 107 (Beyer) and 110 (Brisnet), stamping Knicks Go as a serious threat to win the Dirt Mile. His proven affinity for racing two turns is a positive when you consider Kelso Handicap (G2) winner #10 Complexity has been competing in one-turn events, and don't forget, Knicks Go has serious Grade 1 back classhe wired the 2018 Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland by 5 1/2 lengths.

Suffice to say, Knicks Go is my top choice to win the Dirt Mile, and I'm tempted to single him in all multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

I've been a big fan of #4 Mean Mary, who rattled off gate-to-wire wins in the La Prevoyante (G3), Orchid (G3), and New York (G2) during the first half of the season. The daughter of Scat Daddy has thrived over distances ranging from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles, but she also fired off a huge effort in the 1 1/8-mile Diana (G1) at Saratoga, carving out the pace before finishing second by a neck against six-time Grade 1 winner #6 Rushing Fall.

Mean Mary has been freshened for the Breeders' Cup and should appreciate the slightly longer 1 3/16-mile distance of the Filly & Mare Turf. Rushing Fallwith her 5-for-6 record at Keenelandis a logical favorite and a must-use contender for multi-race wagers. But for the purpose of a win bet, I have to side with Mean Mary to turn the tables.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

On paper, this doesn't look like the toughest edition of the Sprint, especially following the scratch of #14 Vekoma due to a fever. The race also lost some speed when front-running Nashville opted to run in Keeneland's Perryville Stakes instead.

As a result, the undefeated 3-year-old #10 Yaupon has emerged as the favorite off gate-to-wire victories in the Amsterdam (G2) and Chick Lang (G3). I can't really knock the chances of this improving Steve Asmussen trainee, but his edge over this field is slim, and we might get a better price playing #2 C Z Rocket.

A veteran 6-year-old gelding, C Z Rocket has gone 5-for-5 since being claimed in April by two-time Breeders' Cup Sprint-winning trainer Peter Miller. After setting a track record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland, the son of City Zip shipped west and recorded hard-fought victories against quality competition in the Pat O'Brien (G2) and Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2).

C Z Rocket is versatile in terms of running style and brings solid speed figures to the equation. Breaking from post two could be tricky, but with a clean run, I expect C Z Rocket to fight for victory down the lane.

Breeders' Cup Mile

I was initially planning to back #9 One Master, so her withdrawal on Wednesday has left me scrambling to reevaluate the race. Stretch-running Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) winner #11 Ivar is an appealing replacement choice, considering he's already proven over the course and distance of the Breeders' Cup Mile. But ultimately, I'll shoot for a slightly better price with #2 Kameko.

Winner of the historic 2,000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, Kameko spent the summer competing against tough competition in the Epsom Derby (G1), Sussex (G1), and Juddmonte International (G1), running well without winning on every occasion.

Kameko finally got back on track in the 1-mile Joel Stakes (G2) on Sept. 25 at Newmarket, winning by half a length with globetrotting Group 1 winner Benbatl among his beaten rivals. I'm not completely sure a two-turn mile at Keeneland will be suitable for Kameko, since he strikes me as more of a grinder than a horse with serious acceleration.

But on the bright side, Kameko is a son of Kitten's Joy, who has already sired Breeders' Cup champions Stephanie's Kitten, Bobby's Kitten, and Oscar Performance. The progeny of Kitten's Joy tend to excel when there's some give in the ground, so the somewhat damp course expected at Keeneland this week should be a perfect fit for Kameko.

In a wide-open race, Kameko's 6-1 morning line odds are appealing. But I wouldn't dare single him in multi-race wagers, preferring to add Ivar, #3 Lope Y Fernandez, and #5 Digital Age to the mix as well.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

#10 Monomoy Girl is a sensational racehorse. The six-time Grade 1 winner has crossed the wire first in 13 of her 14 starts, including the 2018 Breeders' Cup Distaff. After missing all of 2019 due to colic and a pulled muscle, she's come back as strong as ever in 2020, most recently rallying to victory in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs.

But Monomoy Girl figures to face a stiff challenge on Saturday from #5 Swiss Skydiver, an ultra-durable 3-year-old with five graded stakes wins to her credit. A runaway winner of the Alabama (G1) against graded stakes winners Bonny South, Harvey's Lil Goil, and Envoutante, Swiss Skydiver elevated her game to a new level when facing males in the Preakness (G1) at Pimlico. After unleashing a bold rail rally to seize command on the backstretch, Swiss Skydiver turned back a sustained challenge from Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic to prevail by a neck.

If Swiss Skydiver displays the same level of grit and determination in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she'll be tough to beat. Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver both warrant inclusion in multi-race wagers, but if I had to pick one for a win bet, I would side with Swiss Skydiver.

Breeders' Cup Turf

#2 Magical finished second in this race two years ago and is fully capable of giving trainer Aidan O'Brien a record-extending seventh victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf. But she's wheeling back just three weeks after a hard effort over extremely soft ground in the Champion Stakes (G1) at Ascot, so I'm actually more intrigued by her 3-year-old stablemate #10 Mogul.

An improving son of Galileo, Mogul displayed an eye-catching turn-of-foot when romping to victory by 2 1/2 lengths in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) at Longchamp. Runner-up In Swoop later confirmed the quality of the effort by returning to finish second in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1).

Mogul himself missed the Arc due to an issue with contaminated feed, but on the bright side, this means he'll enter the Turf fresh off an eight-week layoff. Avoiding a run over soft ground during the European fall season should ensure Mogul has plenty in the tank for a big effort at Keeneland.

Breeders' Cup Classic

I made a case for #4 Tom's d'Etat in my early preview of the Breeders' Cup Classic three weeks ago, and nothing since then has changed my view of the race. His victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) was exceptional, considering he sprinted the final furlong in a rapid :12 flat to post strong speed figures of 109 (Beyer) and 112 (Brisnet). And he actually finished even faster when compromised by a stumbling start and a slow pace in the Whitney (G1), coming home third by 2 1/2 lengths in a deceptively strong performance.

A runaway winner of the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland last fall, Tom's d'Etat has been training forwardly for Al Stall Jr., who won the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic with Blame. Tom's d'Etat is versatile in terms of running style, so assuming he breaks cleanly, he should enjoy a clean trip regardless of how the Classic unfolds. #8 Improbable is a logical favorite after winning the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), Whitney (G1), and Awesome Again (G1) in succession, but he's been benefiting from perfect trips in small fields. Don't forget, Tom's d'Etat defeated Improbable in the Apr. 11 Oaklawn Mile Stakes, surging powerfully down the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.

At 6-1, I'm excited to key Tom's d'Etat in all exotic wagers. I'm confident this fast-finishing 7-year-old is poised for a huge effort while stretching out over 1 1/4 miles.

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, videographer, voice actor, 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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