By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Get ready, racing fans! The 2022 Breeders' Cup is set to
take place Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland, and the 14 championship races have drawn
stellar fields across the board.
What are we waiting for? Let's dive in and handicap the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
Selection: Normally, I hesitate to support European
shippers in the Juvenile Turf Sprint. The best typically have little or no
experience competing around a turn (let alone a tight turn), and they're prone
to getting sprinted off their feet by fleet American sprinters.
So why am I backing #6
Persian Force (15-1), a European coming out of straight-course sprints?
Well, he's knocked head with some fierce rivals (including two-time Group 1
winner Blackbeard), and there's so much speed in the 2022 Juvenile Turf Sprint
that I can envision Persian Force getting into gear late and mowing down the
leaders under internationally acclaimed jockey Frankie Dettori.
Choice: #2 Love Reigns (4-1) scratched from Keeneland's Indian
Summer S. last month to save her speed for the Juvenile Turf Sprint. She's
2-for-2 in the U.S., exits a sharp win in the Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga,
and races for trainer Wesley Ward and jockey Irad Ortiz, who have teamed up to
win the last three editions of the Juvenile Turf Sprint. Love Reigns has speed
but is tractable, so I'm optimistic she can sit just off the expected
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
Selection: #2 You're My Girl (10-1) put up a good fight
against Juvenile Fillies favorite Chocolate Gelato in the Frizette (G1),
finishing second by one length after carving out the pace over a sloppy track.
You're My Girl raced closer to a possibly disadvantageous rail than Chocolate
Gelato, so I'm optimistic You're My Girl can turn the tables over a dry track
at Keeneland. You're My Girl dominated her debut by a double-digit margin over
fast footing and picks up Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez for her third
Choice: #10 Chocolate Gelato (7-2) broke her maiden by 8
1/2 lengths at Saratoga before rallying wide to win the Frizette. The Frizette
has produced four of the last five Juvenile Fillies winners, and Chocolate
Gelato owns some of the best Beyer and Brisnet speed figures in Friday's field.
She's a logical favorite, but not necessarily an unbeatable one.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Selection: Early speed
tends to perform well in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and #9 Delight (6-1) showed plenty of speed when wiring the Jessamine
(G2) at Keeneland by five lengths. Delight has improved with every run this
year and isn't facing a ton of pace in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, setting the
stage for another winning performance.
Choice: The other dangerous speedster in this field is #5 Pleasant Passage (12-1), a Shug
McGaughey trainee with a 2-for-2 record. Pleasant Passage wired the Miss Grillo
(G2) over yielding turf at Belmont at the Big A last month, but she won her
debut over firm turf and still has upside. Sire More Than Ready has already seen
two of his daughters claim top honors in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Selection: #3 Cave Rock (4-5) is a beast who has won his first
three starts by a minimum of 5 1/4 lengths. He's never been headed and was tons
the best in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and American Pharoah (G1), earning lofty
speed figures. They'll have to catch Cave Rock to beat him, and I'm having
trouble picturing anyone catching him.
Choice: #5 Verifying (10-1) wired his debut sprinting at Saratoga,
then employed pace-tracking tactics with an inside trip to finish second in the
one-mile Champagne (G1). Verifying arguably raced over a slower part of a
sloppy track than the wide-rallying winner Blazing Sevens, and Verifying is
bred to relish stretching out around two turns, so I'm expecting a big run from
the son of Justify.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Selection: Trainer Charlie Appleby has saddled three winners
from four starters in the Juvenile Turf, so Appleby's #4 Silver Knott (3-1) is surely the runner to beat. The son of Lope
de Vega exits a determined victory in the one-mile Autumn (G3) and won the seven-furlong
Solario (G3) over a tight-turning course at Sandown during the summer, so his
form lines look rock-solid.
Choice: I don't think #8 I'm
Very Busy (9-2) loved racing over a yielding turf course when finishing
second in the Pilgrim (G2), but he was only beaten one length after rallying
wide off a slow pace. Give him a quicker tempo over firm turf, and I'm Very
Busy can bounce back to the flashy form of his 3 3/4-length debut victory at
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
Selection: There's a lot of pace in the Filly & Mare
Turf field, so we'll favor #8 Goodnight
Olive (3-1). The Chad Brown trainee has tactical speed, but is tractable
enough to rally from a few lengths off the pace if necessary. She was last seen
smashing a quality field in Saratoga's Ballerina H. (G1) by 2 3/4 lengths, and
a repeat of that performance can land Goodnight Olive in the Keeneland winner's
circle under three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz. Keep in mind,
Goodnight Olive broke her maiden at Keeneland by 8 1/2 lengths.
Choice: The New Mexico-bred sensation #1 Slammed (15-1) showed a clear affinity for Keeneland when wiring
the Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) last month by 6 1/2 lengths. The
four-year-old filly boasts a 9-for-12 lifetime record and appears to be reaching
her peak at just the right time.
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
Selection: #6 Highfield Princess (7-2) has been targeting the
Breeders' Cup for a while. During the summer, the rapidly improving
five-year-old mare achieved the improbable feat of winning three Group 1
sprints in three different countries in barely more than one month. Most
impressively, Highfield Princess beat future Group 1 winner The Platinum Queen
by 2 1/2 lengths in the Nunthorpe (G1) sprinting five furlongs at York. I'm not
usually keen to support European raiders in the Turf Sprint, but Highfield
Princess is surely one of the best internationals to ever tackle North America's
premier grass dash, and I'm optimistic she can spring a mild upset.
Choice: #8 Golden Pal (2-1) has won his last eight U.S.
starts, including the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and the 2021
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. But the brilliant speedster has struggled with
uncharacteristic poor starts on a couple of occasions this year, and his recent
victories in the Troy (G3) and Woodford (G2) have been achieved with a little
less sparkle than in the past. There isn't much room for error in the Turf
Sprint, so I'm hesitant to view Golden Pal as an unbeatable favorite against a
large and talented field.
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Selection: I made my case last week for #9 Cyberknife (9-2) as a win threat
while cutting back in distance against a field of favorites stretching out in
trip, and I'll stand by my initial assessment. Cyberknife beat quality
competition to win the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Haskell (G1) over 1 1/8 miles,
and that two-turn experience should help Cyberknife win the day in his debut
against older rivals.
Choice: #7 Cody's Wish is 5-for-5 racing one mile, and while
all those victories have come in one-turn events, he finished a good second in
the 1 1/16-mile Challenger (G3) around two turns. Cody's Wish was last seen
unleashing a terrific finish to beat champion sprinter Jackie's Warrior in the
seven-furlong Forego (G1), and an effort like that will make Cody's Wish
dangerous at Keeneland.
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Selection: First place in the Prix de Diane (G1) and
Nassau (G1), second place in the Prix de l'Opera (G1), third place in the Oaks
(G1)... #3 Nashwa (5-2) has competed
with aplomb against tough competition all year long. She's already beaten older
rivals and should be well-suited to the 1 3/16-mile distance of the Filly &
Mare Turf, stamping the daughter of Frankel as a formidable favorite.
Choice: #11 In Italian (7-2) has come to hand impressively for
trainer Chad Brown, a four-time winner of the Filly & Mare Turf. In Italian
exits gate-to-wire victories in the 1 1/8-mile Diana (G1) and one-mile First
Lady (G1), with the latter win coming at Keeneland. In Italian is a serious
threat to lead all the way again on Saturday, even while facing her toughest
assignment to date.
Breeders' Cup Sprint
Selection: There really isn't a ton of pace in the
Sprint field, which could make things tricky for front-running favorite Jackie's
Warrior. Last year's champion male sprinter has an abundance of early speed and
ran giant races last year when allowed to use his speed, but this season he's
been setting slower fractions, and those slower fractions allow late runners to
stay close and potentially outkick Jackie's Warrior down the lane. I would
argue that's what happened in the Forego (G1), when Jackie's Warrior failed to
hold off the late charge of Cody's Wish.
All this is a roundabout way of saying I'm picking #3 O Besos (20-1) to upset the Sprint. Fifth
across the finish line in the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1), O Besos has done some
of his best work running long, but he's 3-for-3 sprinting six furlongs or less
and recently returned from a layoff to win a six-furlong allowance optional
claimer at Churchill Downs. O Besos ran the final furlong in approximately :11
4/5 that day, and a similar finish in a slow-paced Sprint will make O Besos a
danger down the lane.
Choice: #9 Jackie's Warrior (4-5) is an odds-on favorite
for a reason. While he lost the Forego last time out, he's 4-for-5 overall this
season and counts victories in the Churchill Downs (G1) and Alfred G.
Vanderbilt H. (G1) on his 2022 resume. The Steve Asmussen trainee is a
consistent and accomplished sprinter, and no one will be surprised if he romps
to the winner's circle on Saturday.
Breeders' Cup Mile
Selection: European raider #4 Modern Games (7-2) is 2-for-2 in North America, rallying to an
impressive 1 1/2-length score in the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) before
returning to dominate the 2022 Woodbine Mile (G1) by 5 1/4 lengths over Grade 1
winner Ivar. Modern Games is also a classic winner racing 1,600 meters (about
one mile) in France, so his form lines are strong. He looks ready to give
trainer Charlie Appleby a second straight Mile win following Space Blues in
Choice: #14 Domestic Spending (8-1) hasn't run since
August 2021, but he's a formidable deep closer on his best day, unleashing
furious rallies to win the 2020 Hollywood Derby (G1), 2021 Old Forester Bourbon
Turf Classic (G1), and 2021 Manhattan (G1) in succession. Domestic Spending was
compromised by an extremely slow early/fast late race shape when finishing second
in the Mr. D. (G1) last time out, and he'll be a threat down the Keeneland
homestretch if he brings his A-game off the long layoff.
Breeders' Cup Distaff
Selection: There are many viable win threats in the
Distaff, so I'm falling back on #1
Malathaat (3-1), the champion three-year-old filly of 2021 and the most
accomplished entrant in Saturday's field. Malathaat has won five Grade 1 races and
boasts a perfect 3-for-3 record at Keeneland, highlighted by a 5 1/4-length
romp in the Spinster (G1) last month. The daughter of Curlin has shown a bit
more sparkle since adding blinkers during the summer and should be coming on
strong down the Distaff homestretch.
Choice: My second choice is a tossup between the exciting
sophomores #6 Nest (9-5) and #8 Society (6-1). The latter filly
exits a jaw-dropping 5 3/4-length win in the Cotillion (G1), which produced lofty
Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. But Nest has been similarly flashy while
rattling off blowout victories in the Ashland (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks
(G1), Alabama (G1), and Beldame (G2) this season. We'll give the edge to Nest,
who defeated Society when they met in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
Breeders' Cup Turf
Selection: There are some formidable European raiders
entered in the Turf, but I have to give the American mare #2 War Like Goddess (9-2) a try on top. When racing against fellow
fillies and mares, War Like Goddess is such a standout she has a target on her
back and finds herself trying to rally into unbelievably slow pace fractions.
But when War Like Goddess squared off against males in
the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) last time out, she got to run her own race,
tracking a reasonable pace before finishing fast to beat a bevy of Grade 1
winners by 2 3/4 lengths. War Like Goddess is 5-for-5 running 1 1/2 miles and
2-for-2 racing at Keeneland, so I believe she can vie for victory in the Turf.
Choice: #5 Rebel's Romance (3-1) is 4-for-4 on turf and 4-for-4
racing 1 1/2 miles, counting victories in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) and
Preis von Europa (G1) on his resume. Trainer Charlie Appleby won the 2021 Turf
with Yibir and boasts a 6-for-11 overall record at the Breeders' Cup,
suggesting Rebel's Romance is well-spotted for a competitive showing.
We'll also give a shout-out to #11 Mishriff (6-1), winner of the 2021 Saudi Cup, Dubai Sheema
Classic (G1), and Juddmonte International (G1). Mishriff is 0-for-6 this
season, but if you draw lines through a couple of recent defeats over soft and
very soft ground, Mishriff's form lines look a bit better. He ran second
against European star Baaeeed in the Irish Champion (G1) and is adding blinkers
for U.S. debut, so don't count this veteran five-year-old out of the mix.
Five-time Breeders' Cup Turf-winning jockey Frankie Dettori is named to ride.
Breeders' Cup Classic
Selection: There's nothing I can write about #4 Flightline (3-5) that hasn't already
been written. The sensational four-year-old has yet to be challenged in five
starts, recording terrific victories in the Malibu (G1), Metropolitan H. (G1),
and Pacific Classic (G1). He achieved the latter victory by 19 1/4 lengths over
a strong field, earning massive Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. Flightline is
a freak the likes of which we rarely see, and anything resembling his Pacific
Classic performance should win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Choice: #1 Taiba won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in only his
second career start, then disappointed when finishing 12th in the Kentucky
Derby (G1). He bounced back to finish second with a wide trip in the Haskell
(G1), then trounced a strong field by three lengths in the Pennsylvania Derby
(G1). Taiba's campaign has had its ups and downs, but he's on an upswing at the
moment and arrives at Keeneland off a sharp series of workouts for four-time
Classic-winning trainer Bob Baffert. I'm expecting a big performance.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the 14 Breeders'
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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.