Keeler Johnson’s 2022 Breeders’ Cup Selections

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 fields:

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

Top 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.

Second 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 blistering pace.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top 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 start.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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 Saratoga.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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 2021.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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

Top 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.

Second 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' Cup races?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

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.

Recent Posts

More Blogs