Keeler Johnson’s 2021 Breeders’ Cup Selections

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

Let's see... 14 races, and 14 opportunities to cash giant betting payoffs. The Breeders' Cup isn't just a fantastic sporting event—it's also a terrific day for horseplayers. Who doesn't like large fields and huge betting pools?

The 2021 Breeders' Cup will take place at Del Mar across Friday and Saturday, and as usual, we've assembled selections for all 14 championship races. Let's dig in and plan our plays!

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

Top Selection: Trainer Wesley Ward excels at conditioning two-year-old sprinters and has won the last two renewals of the Juvenile Turf Sprint, so we'll strongly support Ward's #8 Averly Jane (5-2) on Friday. The daughter of champion juvenile Midshipman is unbeaten and unchallenged in four starts, including blowout victories over males in the Kentucky Juvenile S., Skidmore S., and Indiana Summer S. A speedster capable of setting or stalking the pace, Averly Jane may prove impossible to catch if she brings her A-game to Del Mar.

Second Choice: # 9 One Timer (4-1) is also unbeaten with a 3-for-3 record highlighted by triumphs in the Victoria S. and Speakeasy S. The latter victory saw One Timer carve out blazing fractions of :21.01 and :43.48 before digging deep to win the five-furlong sprint by three-quarters of a length, so we know the bay gelding has serious speed and talent.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top Selection: #6 Echo Zulu (4-5) is unbeaten and unchallenged in three starts, including gate-to-wire scores in the Spinaway S. (G1) and Frizette S. (G1). Along the way, she's posted a trio of 90+ Beyer speed figures, stamping Echo Zulu as the fastest filly in Friday's field. The Frizette has produced five of the last 10 Juvenile Fillies winners, and Echo Zulu figures to secure a perfect front-running trip in this small field, setting the stage for a third straight Grade 1 win.

Second Choice: #5 Juju's Map (5-2) was as impressive as could be in the Alcibiades S. (G1) at Keeneland last month, tracking a fast pace before kicking away to score by 4 1/4 lengths. Notably, Juju's Map was the only speed horse to factor in a race otherwise dominated by closers, so her effort was arguably even better than it appears at first glance. If anyone can give Echo Zulu a tussle, it's probably this promising Brad Cox trainee.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Selection: There are a bunch of directions to go here, so I'll try for a mid-range price play with #5 Bubble Rock (8-1). Conditioned by Brad Cox (who won this race last year with Aunt Pearl), Bubble Rock has shown tactical speed sprinting on the New York circuit, breaking her maiden at Saratoga before employing tracking tactics to win a quick renewal of the Matron S. (G3). Stretching out from six furlongs to one mile is a question mark, but sire More Than Ready is responsible for two previous winners of this race, and three-time champion jockey Irad Ortiz (a 22% winner on turf) is named to ride.

Second Choice: #1 Pizza Bianca (5-1) didn't get the cleanest run in the Natalma S. (G1) at Woodbine, but she nevertheless battled on gamely to finish second. The Christophe Clement trainee had previously won her debut racing 1 1/16 miles at Saratoga and figures to enjoy a ground-saving trip on Friday. If Pizza Bianca can work out an unencumbered run down the lane, she can fight for victory.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Top Selection: #10 Commandperformance (5-1) might be a maiden, but he's run strongly in both of his starts. After charging hard to finish second in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga (ahead of next-out winner Forced Ranking), Commandperformance stepped up in class and distance for the Champagne S. (G1) at Belmont, where he ran second behind probable Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite Jack Christopher.

Commandperformance gained a lot of ground down the homestretch of the Champagne, closing 2 3/4 lengths through the final furlong. As a son of Belmont S. (G1) winner Union Rags out of a mare by Tapit, Commandperformance is bred to relish stretching out around two turns. If Jack Christopher gets caught up in a hot pace, I believe Commandperformance can turn the tables at a nice price.

Second Choice: A Japanese raider has never won at the Breeders' Cup, but #2 Jasper Great (15-1) may have a chance to change that storyline. The son of Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate dominated his debut at Hanshin, winning an 1,800-meter maiden event by 10 lengths. Stablemate Full Flat outran expectations when fifth in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at odds of 89-1, and I'm optimistic Jasper Great can finish even higher at Del Mar.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Top Selection: #1 Modern Games (5-1) has won three of his five starts for trainer Charlie Appleby, whose record in the Breeders' Cup stands at an excellent 7-3-1-0. Chief among Modern Games' triumphs is a flashy 2 1/2-length score in the Somerville S. (G3) sprinting seven furlongs at Newmarket. The Godolphin homebred has tactical speed and figures to enjoy a ground-saving trip from the rail draw, setting the stage for victory.

Second Choice: #5 Slipstream (12-1) overcame a troubled start to rally through traffic and win Belmont's six-furlong Futurity S. (G3) by a length. The son of More Than Ready had previously dominated a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Belmont in gate-to-wire fashion, so with a clean trip on Friday, I expect to see Slipstream secure a forwardly placed trip under hot jockey Joel Rosario. If an American is going to steal the show from the Europeans, I believe Slipstream is the one.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Selection: #5 Bella Sofia (5-2) has been on a roll this year, winning four of her five starts. The daughter of Awesome Patriot used her tactical speed to dominate the Test S. (G1) during the summer at Saratoga before trouncing older rivals in Belmont's Gallant Bloom H. (G2). In a small field without a ton of pace on paper, Bella Sofia figures to sit a perfect trip vying with heavy favorite Gamine through modest fractions. From there, I'm willing to bet the strong finishing speed Bella Sofia has displayed this season is enough to conquer her more heralded rival.

Second Choice: #6 Gamine (3-5) has never lost a sprint and dominated this race by 5 1/4 lengths last season. But in terms of Beyer speed figures, Gamine hasn't been running quite as fast this season. She's arguably at her best when allowed to roll along up front through fast fractions, and since the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint seems destined to unfold at a modest tempo, I'm willing to take a shot against Gamine.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Top Selection: #4 Lieutenant Dan (6-1) hasn't missed the trifecta in seven starts on turf and is 3-for-3 in 2021. During the summer, he wired a five-furlong allowance over the Del Mar lawn before romping to a 2 1/4-length win in the Green Flash H. (G3) over the same course and distance. Lieutenant Dan subsequently delivered a powerful performance in the Eddie D S. (G2) sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill at Santa Anita, carving out intense fractions of :21.61 and :42.95 before forging on to win by half a length. With his speed, consistency, and proven affinity for the conditions of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Lieutenant Dan is an appealing choice for victory.

Second Choice: #3 Golden Pal (7-2) is 4-for-5 in the U.S. and enters off a confident win in the 5 1/2-furlong Woodford S. (G2) at Keeneland. But while Golden Pal brings an abundance of tactical speed to the table, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint hero hasn't run quite as fast as Lieutenant Dan on the Beyer and Brisnet speed figure scales. Saturday is shaping up as something of a class test for the speedy son of Uncle Mo.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Top Selection: With three victories from four starts over the Del Mar main track, it's safe to say #3 Ginobili (4-1) loves this seaside oval. The son of Munnings has developed into a beast since adding blinkers during the summer, trouncing an allowance over this track and distance by 9 1/4 lengths before using his speed to dominate a strong field in Del Mar's seven-furlong Pat O'Brien S. (G2). Ginobili has a lot of tactical speed, but he's also versatile enough to settle off the lead if necessary, setting the stage for a winning trip over his favorite track.

Second Choice: #5 Life Is Good (4-5) is a neck away from being undefeated in four starts, including two victories over Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) contender Medina Spirit in the Sham S. (G3) and San Felipe S. (G2). Life Is Good recently turned to the winner's circle with an easy 5 1/2-length win in the Kelso H. (G2) at Belmont, though the form of the race wasn't flattered when runner-up Fort Peck returned to finish last in the Fayette S. (G2).

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Top Selection: The 2019 Yushun Himba (G1, Japanese Oaks) winner #8 Loves Only You (4-1) has been competing against elite competition for several years. During the spring, Loves Only You finished a close third in the 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), beaten only half a length by versatile Group 1 star Mishriff. Then she cut back in distance for the 1 1/4-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) in Hong Kong, which she won comfortably.

Loves Only You arrives at Del Mar off a game runner-up effort behind Japanese classic winner Sodashi in the 1 1/4-mile Sapporo Kinen (G2), which should serve as a perfect prep for the Breeders' Cup. The firm turf at Del Mar should suit Loves Only You just fine, and she may find the competition a bit easier after squaring off against males in her last five starts.

Second Choice: #7 War Like Goddess (7-2) has been a monster this year, rattling off four straight graded wins over 1 3/8 miles or farther. The daughter of English Channel routinely produces strong finishes from behind slow fractions and was last seen dominating Saratoga's Flower Bowl S. (G1) by 2 1/4 lengths, suggesting she's the best of the home team and a must-use in multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Top Selection: #2 Jackie's Warrior (6-5) is a neck away from being undefeated in nine starts around one turn, including victories in the Hopeful S. (G1), Champagne S. (G1), and H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1). The Steve Asmussen trainee just keeps getting faster on the Beyer speed figures scale and threw down a massive 110 when dominating the Gallant Bob S. (G2) at Parx in effortless fashion. If Jackie's Warrior brings his A-game, he may prove impossible to beat.

Second Choice: #9 Dr. Schivel (4-1) is 3-for-3 at Del Mar, which includes a determined victory in the Bing Crosby S. (G1) over Grade 1 winner Eight Rings and 2020 Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up C Z Rocket. Dr. Schivel subsequently beat C Z Rocket again when powering to a 3 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2). He hasn't run as fast as Jackie's Warrior on the Beyer scale, but Dr. Schiveli's obvious affinity for Del Mar can land him a spot in the top three.

Breeders' Cup Mile

Top Selection: With eight wins from his last nine starts on turf, #6 Mo Forza (5-1) is as consistent and talented as they come. A three-time graded stakes winner over the Del Mar lawn, Mo Forza boasts a simply wicked turn-of-foot, which he's utilized to beat Grade 1 winners and fellow Breeders' Cup Mile entrants Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road in back-to-back starts this year. Under top turf jockey Flavien Prat (a 28% winner this year), Mo Forza can win one for the home team in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Second Choice: Charlie Appleby's #3 Space Blues (3-1) has long been an elite sprinter, with seven furlongs being his optimum trip. He arrives at Del Mar off a comfortable two-length score in the Prix de la Foret (G1) at Longchamp, and his sprinting speed bodes well for challenging in a typically fast-paced race like the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Top Selection: #11 Dunbar Road (15-1) might be 0-for-4 this year, but she's shown steady improvement and enters off a pair of deceptively strong efforts. She was beaten less than a length when fourth in the Personal Ensign S. (G1) during the summer at Saratoga, after which she rallied gamely against the grain of a modest pace to finish second in the Keeneland's Spinster S. (G1). On both occasions, Dunbar Road was beaten by Letruska, the heavy favorite for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

There's a lot of speed in Friday's field, which may compromise front-running Letruska and open the door for a late-rallying victory from Dunbar Road. The daughter of Quality Road finished third in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Distaff and should have every chance to improve her showing on Friday.

Second Choice: #3 Malathaat (4-1) seems to be flying under the radar, even though she's rattled off victories in the Ashland S. (G1), Kentucky Oaks (G1), and Alabama S. (G1) this year. Wide trips and slow paces have prevented the stretch-running sophomore from delivering blowout wins, but the fast pace shaping up for the Distaff should allow Malathat to produce a career-best effort and fight for victory at a potentially overlaid price.

Breeders' Cup Turf

Top Selection: Three-year-old filly #12 Teona (6-1) gets in carrying just 119 pounds, seven fewer than her older male rivals. That's a significant difference when you consider how Teona arrives at Del Mar off a gutsy victory in the Prix Vermeille (G1) at ParisLongchamp, where she beat multiple Group 1 winner Snowfall by 1 1/2 lengths. Teona is improving steadily but has only run six times, so she has ample upside for improvement in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Keep in mind, Teona has already beaten males, trouncing two-time Canadian International (G1) winner Desert Encounter in the 1 7/16-mile August S. two starts back.

Second Choice: #13 Tarnawa (9-5) rallied boldly to win the 2020 Breeders' Cup Turf by one length, but she arrives for her title defense off a hard effort in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), where she ran second by a neck over heavy ground. Tarnawa will need to bounce back with another peak effort to take home top honors in the Turf, and while that's certainly a possibility, 9-5 seems like a short price to accept.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Top Selection: There's a ton of speed in the Classic field, but reigning Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner #5 Knicks Go (5-2) has made a habit of shredding his pace rivals, so who's to say he won't sprint to the front at Del Mar and forget to stop? He couldn't have been a more impressive winner of the Lukas Classic (G3) last month, and that four-length victory was flattered when runner-up Independence Hall returned to crush the Fayette S. (G2) by daylight. Stretching out over 1 1/4 miles is a question mark for Knicks Go, but his raw talent might just win the day.

Second Choice: #4 Essential Quality (3-1) is a length away from being undefeated in nine starts, including top-level scores in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), Belmont S. (G1), Breeders' Futurity (G1), and Travers S. (G1). The latter two victories came with tracking tactics, but Essential Quality is just as effective rallying from off the pace. Assuming a fast tempo unfolds on Saturday, Essential Quality figures to be the primary beneficiary, launching a rally down the lane to fight for victory.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the 14 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.

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