By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Barely more than two weeks
out from the 2023 Breeders' Cup, the prospective fields are coming together and
handicappers can start searching for live longshots they intend to support on
To that end, here are couple
midrange price horses I'm interesting in backing at the 2023 Breeders' Cup:
It might surprise you to
hear that Clairiere is less than one length away from being a two-time Breeders'
Cup Distaff (G1) winner, but it's true. The accomplished daughter of Curlin
tends to be overlooked when the Breeders' Cup rolls around, but Hall of Fame
trainer Steve Asmussen has twice prepared her for a strong showing on the big
As a three-year-old in 2021,
Clairiere entered a deep edition of the Breeders' Cup Distaff off a victory in
the Cotillion (G1). In her first try against older rivals, Clairiere launched a
strong outside rally from last place, only to flatten out slightly in the final
strides and finish fourth by three-quarters of a length.
Clairiere ran even better in
the 2022 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Again she trailed the field early before
rallying with determination to finish third, beaten a head in a three-way photo
Will the third time be the
charm for Clairiere? She started 2023 on a strong note, finishing second in the
Azeri (G2) before posting back-to-back wins in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and
Ogden Phipps (G1). Among her beaten rivals in those races were Grade 1 winners
like Secret Oath, Search Results, and Played Hard.
Clairiere's recent form has
been muddied a bit. Her late rally was compromised when facing only three
rivals in the Shuvee (G2), as pedestrian fractions of :24.82, :49.87, and
1:14.43 gave an advantage to the pace-tracking 2022 champion three-year-old
filly Nest. Even still, Clairiere closed ground to finish second by 2 1/4
lengths against Nest while pulling 10 lengths clear of the rest.
Another challenging pace
scenario unfolded in the Personal Ensign (G1), in which Clairiere trailed
through modest splits of :24.53, :48.84, and 1:12.61 over a sloppy track before
passing one rival to finish a distant fifth. But this isn't necessarily
concerning; the caliber of competition was strong, the closing fractions were
quick, and Clairiere shrugged off a similarly disappointing fifth-place finish
in the 2022 Personal Ensign to run her giant race at the Breeders' Cup.
Just like in 2022, Clairiere
has skipped the final round of Breeders' Cup prep races and shipped early to
the Breeders' Cup host track. She's already posted two timed workouts at Santa
Anita (including five furlongs in 1:00.40) and ought to be ready for a strong
performance on Nov. 4.
Here's the clincher: the
prospective Breeders' Cup Distaff field is packed with speed. Expected favorite
Idiomatic escaped with easy leads when wiring the Personal Ensign and Spinster
(G1). Adare Manor has wired the Santa Mara (G2), Santa Margarita (G2), and
Zenyatta (G2). Randomized led all the way through easy fractions to win the
Alabama (G1) and Beldame (G2), and Search Results exits a gate-to-wire score in
the Locust Grove (G3).
It seems unlikely that a
slow pace will unfold in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which should set the stage
for Clairiere to unleash a powerful rally and maybe—just maybe—snatch an
elusive Breeders' Cup victory.
Speed Boat Beach
You can bet that reigning
Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner Elite Power will receive plenty of betting support
while defending his title. After all, the talented five-year-old has won three
of his four starts this season.
But might Elite Power be
vulnerable to an upset? He started the year with a decisive 3 1/4-length victory
over Gunite in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3), followed by a flashy triumph from
behind a modest pace in the True North (G2). But then Elite Power had to work
surprisingly hard to chase down Gunite by a head in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H.
(G1), after which he was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Gunite in the Forego (G1).
You can certainly argue that
Gunite has gotten better as the year has gone on, but you can also make a case
that Elite Power is starting to slip from his powerful peak. It's difficult to
win multiple editions of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (only two horses have ever
done it), so perhaps Elite Power is vulnerable to an up-and-comer like Speed
Trained by Bob Baffert, who
has won the Sprint a record five times, Speed Boat Beach has spent more time
competing on turf than dirt. As a two-year-old last year, he used his speed to sandwich
victories in the five-furlong Speakeasy S. and the one-mile Cecil B. DeMille
(G3) around a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
But it appears Speed Boat
Beach is even better on dirt. Remember his stunning debut sprinting 5 1/2
furlongs at Del Mar? Speed Boat Beach led all the way through fractions of
:21.34 and :44.17 to win by 1 1/4 lengths in the track-record time of 1:01.86.
He wasn't beating easy rivals either; runner-up Hejazi came back to finish
third in the American Pharoah (G1), while third-place finisher Fort Bragg has
since won the Dwyer (G3) and placed in three other graded stakes.
Speed Boat Beach spent
winter, spring, and summer on the sidelines, but finally returned to action in
the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) on Sept. 30 at Santa
Anita. Facing older horses off a long layoff in his three-year-old debut was
bound to be a difficult task, but Speed Boat Beach handled the challenge with
aplomb. He pressed and dueled through fractions of :22.08 and :44.27 before
fighting on gamely through fast closing fractions (final two furlongs in :11.92
and :12.30) to finish second by a head against 2021 Breeders' Cup Sprint
runner-up Dr. Schivel in the fast time of 1:08.49.
Any way you slice it, this
was a giant effort, especially off the long layoff. Speed Boat Beach wasted no
time getting back on the work tab and is cranking out quick exercises in
preparation for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, so who's to say he won't move forward
in his second run of the season? It wouldn't be the first time Baffert has
pulled off a feat like this. In 2013, Baffert prepared Secret Circle to win the
Breeders' Cup Sprint off a single allowance optional claiming victory in the
previous 1 1/2 years, and in 2008 he saddled Midnight Lute to win the Sprint off
a tenth-place finish in the Pat O'Brien H. (G2) two months prior, which marked
Midnight Lute's only other race that season.
A strong field is shaping up
for the 2023 Breeders' Cup Sprint, but in all likelihood my money will be
riding on Speed Boat Beach to spring a surprise on the front end.
Now it's your turn! Which
longshots are you thinking of playing at the 2023 Breeders' Cup?
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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.