Are This Year’s Defending Breeders' Cup Winners Vulnerable?

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

Pre-entries for the 2023 Breeders' Cup were released on Wednesday, and four winners from 2022 are back to defend their titles. They are Caravel in the Turf Sprint (G1), Cody's Wish in the Dirt Mile (G1), Elite Power (G1) in the Sprint, and Goodnight Olive (G1) in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

But winning the same Breeders' Cup race in back-to-back years is difficult. The Breeders' Cup regularly shifts venues, so winning consecutive Breeders' Cup races usually requires beating talented horses from around the country (and even the world) at multiple tracks. Plus, it's hard to keep a horse in peak form for long periods of time, and rare is the horse who can win a Breeders' Cup race with something less than their best effort.

So will Caravel, Cody's Wish, Elite Power, and Goodnight Olive defend their titles, or are upsets in the offing? Let's review their recent racing records and decide:


Caravel might be the most vulnerable of the defending Breeders' Cup winners, in large part because the Turf Sprint is typically a wildly competitive race. Such was the case in 2022, when Caravel got out in front and led all the way to prevail by half a length at odds of 42-1.

Caravel started 2023 on a hot streak, winning three straight races. In both the Jaipur (G1) and Shakertown (G2), she conquered male rivals. But she was subsequently beaten to fourth place over soft turf in the Troy (G3) at Saratoga, and in the recent Franklin (G2) at Keeneland—a sprint for fillies and mares that Caravel won decisively in 2022—she finished second by a neck, outkicked by longshot Tony Ann in the drive.

In short, Caravel is returning to the Turf Sprint in less than her best form. That doesn't mean she can't bounce back and win, but she's six years old now and has accomplished a lot across 25 starts. It's possible Caravel has passed her peak, opening the door for a new name to snatch top honors in the Turf Sprint.

Cody's Wish

Fan favorite Cody's Wish was nothing less than sensational during the first half of 2023, launching powerful rallies from off the pace to win the Churchill Downs (G1) and Metropolitan H. (G1) by daylight margins. But defending his Dirt Mile title may prove to be his most difficult assignment of the year.

Cody's Wish won the 2022 Dirt Mile racing two turns at Keeneland, but benefited from a hot pace and was all-out to catch Cyberknife by a head. Even though he's bred top and bottom to relish route racing, Cody's Wish has been most impressive in one-turn races, and when he tackled two turns again in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) this summer he came up empty in the drive and finished third by 10 lengths.

Cody's Wish has a habit of breaking slowly, and it's arguably gotten more pronounced in recent starts. He gave up a lot of ground at the start of the seven-furlong Vosburgh (G2) around one turn at Belmont at the Big A last time out, and while he ultimately rallied to win by 1 1/2 lengths, he had to work harder than usual to beat an easier field than in the Churchill Downs or Metropolitan.

The prospective field for the 2023 Dirt Mile doesn't contain a ton of speed on paper, so another slow start could leave Cody's Wish with the tricky task of rallying into a modest pace while stretching out around two turns. That could prove to be the recipe for an upset.

Elite Power

Reigning Sprint winner Elite Power is another defending Breeders' Cup hero who returns to the championship in arguably less than peak form. For an exploration of his 2023 record, check out last week's blog post, in which I highlighted Speed Boat Beach as a live longshot to upset Elite Power.

Goodnight Olive

Of the four 2022 Breeders' Cup winners returning in 2023, Filly & Mare Sprint heroine Goodnight Olive may have the best chance to visit the winner's circle, though even she isn't without chinks in her armor.

Goodnight Olive entered the 2022 Breeders' Cup in red-hot form. She'd won six straight races by daylight margins, including a strong edition of the Ballerina H. (G1) at Saratoga. Her decisive 2 3/4-length score in the Ballerina stamped her as a compelling favorite at the Breeders' Cup, where she launched another strong rally to beat 2021 champion two-year-old filly Echo Zulu by 2 1/2 lengths.

Goodnight Olive has enjoyed a productive 2023 campaign, but her dominance from last year has been lacking. She kicked off the year in the Madison (G1), where she unleashed a sharp rally around the turn to lead by three lengths passing the eighth pole. She appeared on her way to an easy victory until Maryquitecontrary mounted a late challenge; Goodnight Olive turned her back to win by one length, but had to work surprisingly hard to do so.

Next came the Derby City Distaff (G1), in which Goodnight Olive got trapped in a pocket and never got out while finishing third by two lengths. That forgivable defeat left Goodnight Olive as a heavy 3-10 favorite to win the Bed o' Roses (G2), but after trailing a five-horse field early on, Goodnight Olive was all-out to get up and win by a neck over Derby City Distaff runner-up Wicked Halo, a filly she'd beaten by 3 1/2 lengths in the 2022 Breeders' Cup.

Goodnight Olive ran more like her old self in the 2023 Ballerina, showing improved tactical speed on her way to finishing second by 2 1/2 lengths against a much-improved Echo Zulu, who would have been a heavy favorite for this year's Filly & Mare Sprint if she hadn't suffered a career-ending injury during training. Goodnight Olive pulled 6 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Matareya, the Derby City Distaff winner.

The way I see it, Goodnight Olive has gotten three clear runs this season, but has only brought her A-game once. The tricky part is that she ran her A-game in her most recent start and may be rounding back to peak form in time to defend her Breeders' Cup title.

I wouldn't want to leave Goodnight Olive out of multi-race wagers, but I don't view her as unbeatable while shipping to Santa Anita and taking on a strong field. Hot rivals like record-setting Chicago (G3) winner Society or determined Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) heroine Yuugiri have legitimate chances to steal the show.

Now it's your turn! Will you be betting or opposing the four defending Breeders' Cup winners?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest 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