Keeler Johnson’s 2023 Breeders’ Cup Selections

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

Get ready, racing fans! The 2023 Breeders' Cup is taking place on Nov. 3-4 at Santa Anita, and the 14 championship races are looking as competitive as ever.

Let's dive in and handicap the fields:

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

Top Selection: Pacesetters have won four out of five editions of the Juvenile Turf Sprint, and horses who prepped in Europe have won the last two editions. These stats bode well for #4 Big Evs (3-1), a speedy pacesetter with wins in the five-furlong Molecomb (G3) and five-furlong Flying Childers (G2) on his resume. The only time Big Evs missed the exacta came when facing older horses in the Nunthorpe (G1). He's drawn outside three of the other primary pace players in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, so Big Evs has every chance to break sharply, outsprint the other speed horses, and take this field all the way on the front end.

Second Choice: #9 Amidst Waves (8-1) closed ground to finish second by a nose in the 5 1/2-furlong Indian Summer S. last time out, her first defeat from four starts on turf. She previously won Saratoga's 5 1/2-furlong Bolton Landing S. over next-out stakes winner Crown Imperial and boasts a 2-for-2 record sprinting five furlongs, which includes a win in the Colleen S. at Monmouth. What's not to like? Amidst Waves is accomplished and consistent, and she can come running from behind the expected hot pace.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top Selection: #12 Just F Y I (8-1) rallied from just off the pace to win her debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga, then followed up with a 3 3/4-length romp over a sloppy track in the Frizette (G1). Just F Y I finished fast that day, running her final quarter-mile in :24.49 even after making an early and wide move around turn. Stretching out around two turns shouldn't be an issue, and the Frizette has produced six of the last 12 Juvenile Fillies winners, so there's a lot to like about Just F Y I. Including, of course, her 8-1 morning line odds.

Second Choice: #4 Tamara (4-5) is the heavy favorite after opening her career with a pair of impressive wins, including a 6 3/4-length romp in the Del Mar Debutante (G1). The daughter of three-time Breeders' Cup winner Beholder is an obvious win threat, but has yet to run farther than seven furlongs and hasn't raced in a couple of months. I wouldn't want to exclude Tamara from multi-race wagers, but she has enough questions to answer that her 4-5 morning line odds are unenticing as far as win betting is concerned.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Selection: #7 Gala Brand (12-1) was the only filly to gain any meaningful ground off slow fractions of :23.93, :50.00, and 1:14.37 in the Miss Grillo (G2) at Belmont at the Big A, rallying from 11th place to finish fourth. The top three finishers raced 2-3-4 during the early stages of the race, and strong closing fractions of :23.68 and :05.87 made it difficult for Gala Brand to catch up.

Gala Brand previously rallied to conquer males in the With Anticipation (G2) at Saratoga, counting next-out Summer (G1) winner Carson's Run among her beaten rivals. The Juvenile Fillies Turf figures to unfold at a solid pace, giving Gala Brand every chance to launch a winning rally at double-digit odds. Don't forget, North American fillies have won 12 out of 15 editions of the Juvenile Fillies Turf, far outperforming European raiders.

Second Choice: #11 She Feels Pretty (4-1) is 2-for-2 and launched an eye-catching rally to dominate the one-mile Natalma (G1) at Woodbine by 4 1/4 lengths. She ran her final quarter-mile in a quick :23.32, and her performance was flattered when distant runner-up Simply in Front returned to win her next start, so I wouldn't want to leave She Feels Pretty out of multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Top Selection: I wouldn't be surprised to see half a dozen different horses win the Juvenile, but ultimately I'll side with #6 Locked (7-2), the colt I believe will prove best in the long run. After blazing his final quarter-mile in :23.94 (sensational for a two-year-old on dirt) to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Saratoga by 7 1/4 lengths over a next-out winner, Locked overcame a wide trip to rally and win the Breeders' Futurity (G1) by half a length over a rival who saved ground.

Locked is versatile in terms of running style and is making steady progress for three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, so his 7-2 morning line odds are appealing. I'm confident he'll be right in the thick of things down the homestretch.

Second Choice: #8 General Partner (8-1) crushed a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga by four lengths and followed up with a solid runner-up finish in the one-mile Champagne (G1), in which he set a quick pace before weakening in the homestretch to finish 4 1/4 lengths behind #4 Timberlake (4-1). There doesn't appear to be a ton of speed in the Juvenile field, so I can envision a scenario where General Partner gets to the front through a controlled pace and forgets to stop in his two-turn debut. Remember, trainer Chad Brown saddled Good Magic to win the 2017 Juvenile off a runner-up finish in the Champagne.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Top Selection: Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien has won the Juvenile Turf a record five times, and all five of his winners were ridden by Ryan Moore. This bodes well for #2 River Tiber (3-1), who represents the O'Brien/Moore team in the 2023 Juvenile Turf. Placed twice against top-tier company in the Prix Morny (G1) and Middle Park (G1), River Tiber has tactical speed and the pedigree to stretch out over one mile. If he can work out a traffic-free but ground-saving trip from post three, he'll be formidable down the homestretch.

Second Choice: O'Brien also trains #8 Unquestionable (4-1), runner-up in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) sprinting about seven furlongs in France. World-renowned jockey Frankie Dettori is taking over the mount from Ryan Moore, so an O'Brien exacta could certainly be in the cards.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Top Selection: In two starts since transferring to the care of trainer Cherie DeVaux, #1 Stage Raider (15-1) has stepped up his game. He won the one-mile R.A. Cowboy Jones S. at Ellis Park by two lengths, then finished a deceptively good second in the one-mile Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs.

In the Ack Ack, Stage Raider had to wait in a pocket around the turn, losing an opportunity to close ground on gate-to-wire winner Zozos. When the latter accelerated the final quarter-mile in :23.91, Stage Raider didn't have a fair chance to catch up, but to his credit he gained some ground to finish second by one length.

Stage Raider has won around two turns and is progressing in the right direction. If fast-working Preakness (G1) winner #9 National Treasure (8-1) keeps Zozos occupied up front, Stage Raider can turn the tables and potentially upset the Dirt Mile at double-digit odds.

Second Choice: Defending Dirt Mile winner #3 Cody's Wish (9-5) is an obvious win threat, but the son of Curlin may have peaked earlier in the season and is arguably better racing around one turn than two turns. Instead, my second choice is the above-mentioned #4 Zozos (6-1), who has won four of his last five starts. Trained by Brad Cox, who won this race in 2020 with Knicks Go, Zozos has lots of speed and figures to work out a clean trip on the front end. If he rations his speed as well as in the Ack Ack, he'll be tough to run down.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Top Selection: #9 Didia (8-1) is arguably being underrated in this competitive contest. A multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina, Didia has gone 5-for-6 since arriving in North America, with her lone defeat being a pace-compromised second in the 1 1/4-mile New York (G1) at Belmont Park.

That defeat ranks as Didia's lone miss from four starts racing 1 1/4 miles. She recently returned from a four-month layoff to win Santa Anita's 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive (G2) in sharp fashion, sprinting her final quarter-mile in :22.57 from behind a modest pace to beat Del Mar Oaks (G1) winner Anisette by 1 3/4 lengths in 1;59.79. If Didia moves forward in her second start off the layoff... who knows? The main European challengers are either shortening up or stretching out significantly in distance, so Didia's strong record over 1 1/4 miles is appealing. So are her 8-1 morning line odds.

Second Choice: #6 Inspiral (5-2) has won a bevy of Group 1 miles through the years, including the Sun Chariot (G1) at Newmarket last month by 3 1/4 lengths. The talented daughter of Frankel is stretching out a quarter-mile in distance for the Filly & Mare Turf, but her miler speed should come in handy over a tight-turning U.S. turf course, potentially giving her an advantage over long-winded Yorkshire Oaks (G1) and Prix Vermeille (G1) heroine #2 Warm Heart (3-1), who has done her best work over 1 1/2 miles.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Selection: #7 Society (5-2) has shown flashes of brilliance since last year and enters the Filly & Mare Sprint in red-hot form. Two starts back, she wired the seven-furlong Chicago (G3) at Ellis Park by 10 3/4 lengths in the track-record time of 1:20.54. Last time out, she smashed the seven-furlong Pink Ribbon S. at Charles Town by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:23.11, missing the track mark by only 0.43. She's the only pure pacesetter in the Filly & Mare Sprint field and has done well with time between starts this season, so Society figures to be poised for a peak effort while racing for the first time in 10 weeks.

Second Choice: Reigning Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) winner #1 Goodnight Olive (6-5) didn't seem quite as sharp during the first half of the year, but took a step forward when finishing second in a fast renewal of the Ballerina H. (G1) at Saratoga last time out. Another competitive showing should be in the offing from this consistent five-year-old mare, who hasn't missed the trifecta in 11 starts.

Breeders' Cup Mile

Top Selection: #10 Songline (5-2) rates as Japan's best miler after winning back-to-back editions of the prestigious Yasuda Kinen (G1). She won the 2023 edition in the terrific time of 1:31.4 and routinely rockets her final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :33.5 or less, so it's safe to say Songline is a beast when at her best. It's important to note Songline defeated talented U.S. sprinter/miler Casa Creed in last year's 1351 Turf Sprint Cup (G3) traveling about 6 1/2 furlongs in Saudi Arabia, so should have enough sprinting speed to handle a tight-turning turf course like the one at Santa Anita. I'm confident Songline is the best horse in the Mile field and the most likely winner.

Second Choice: Three-year-old filly #11 Kelina (6-1) has made gradual improvement this season and enters the Mile off a victory in the Prix de la Foret (G1) sprinting about seven furlongs at ParisLongchamp. The daughter of Frankel proved best by half a length over Kinross, who finished a close third in the 2022 Breeders' Cup Mile. Kelina's form lines suggest she isn't fond of overly soft turf courses, so there's a chance tackling a firm course at Santa Anita will unlock further improvement.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Top Selection: #9 Clairiere (4-1) beat strong competition in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Ogden Phipps (G1) during the spring and has been freshened since misfiring over a sloppy track in the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign (G1). She's trained nicely for the Distaff and is meeting a field with lots of pace on paper, so Clairiere figures to receive a favorable setup in her third Breeders' Cup appearance. As I outlined a couple of weeks ago, Clairiere is a compelling choice to spring a mild upset, though I hope she starts at higher than 4-1.

Second Choice: #4 Idiomatic (5-2) has won four straight graded stakes and beat tough competition when wiring the Personal Ensign (G1) and Juddmonte International (G1) by daylight margins. She benefited from securing easy leads in those Grade 1 wins and figures to face considerably more pace pressure in the Distaff, but given how Idiomatic has improved by leaps and bounds this year, she may be good enough at this point to handle a faster pace and still finish strongly.

Breeders' Cup Turf

Top Selection: Derby (G1) and Irish Derby (G1) winner #5 Auguste Rodin (3-1) has won a quartet of Group 1 stakes over distances from one mile to 1 1/2 miles, suggesting he has the talent, speed, and stamina to shine in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He does his best work over firmer courses and has been specifically pointed to the Breeders' Cup since winning the 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion (G1) over a strong field, so Auguste Rodin has every chance to give trainer Aidan O'Brien a record-extending seventh win in the Turf.

Second Choice: #2 Onesto (8-1) has only run three times this season and fired off his best run of the year when third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) four weeks ago. Winner of the 1 1/2-mile Grand Prix de Paris (G1) as a three-year-old in 2022, Onesto enters the Breeders' Cup fresh and with an improving profile, setting the stage for a competitive showing.

I'll also mention #1 Shahryar (15-1) as a live longshot. Japan's 2022 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) winner recently underwent surgery to correct a breathing issue and is eligible to fire his best shot in a while. The son of Deep Impact loves 1 1/2 miles and firm turf, so don't count him out of the mix at a big price.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Top Selection: #12 Arabian Knight (3-1) has always been highly regarded and exits a career-best performance in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, where he led all the way to beat a deep field including Haskell (G1) winner Geaux Rocket Ride and next-out Awesome Again (G1) winner Slow Down Andy.

Arabian Knight doesn't have much experience (he's only run four times), but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has sent the bay colt through a stiff series of workouts since the Pacific Classic, including a pair of seven-furlong moves in 1:24 at Santa Anita. Baffert has won the Classic four times with three-year-olds, and three of them led from start to finish. I'm optimistic Arabian Knight is ready to achieve the same feat.

Second Choice: #5 Derma Sotogake (20-1) didn't get the best trip on his way to finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), his North American debut. But two starts back he crushed the UAE Derby (G2) by 5 1/2 lengths in a blazing time suggesting he would have beaten #8 Ushba Tesoro (4-1) in the Dubai World Cup (G1) on the same day. Derma Sotogake hasn't run since the Kentucky Derby, but at a morning line price five times higher than Ushba Tesoro, I don't want to leave Derma Sotogake off my tickets. He has more early speed than he showed after a troubled start in the Kentucky Derby and can bounce back with a big run if able to secure a forward position in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Top Selection: #9 Roses for Debra (12-1) struggled over a slow and yielding turf course when third in the Turf Monster (G3) last time out, but she won't encounter footing even remotely like that at Santa Anita. The expected firm course should be much more suitable for Roses for Debra, who is 4-for-4 competing over firm and good grass. Those four victories came by daylight margins and in consecutive fashion during the spring and summer, culminating with decisive scores in the Caress (G3) and Smart N Fancy S. at Saratoga. Fillies and mares have an excellent record in the Turf Sprint, winning five of the last 11 editions, so Roses for Debra is a compelling double-digit longshot under four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

Second Choice: #5 Live In The Dream (9-2) beat a deep field when wiring the five-furlong Nunthorpe (G1) in England two starts back, and he showed phenomenal speed when making his U.S. debut in the 5 1/2-furlong Woodford (G2) at Keeneland last month, carving out fractions of :20.97 and :43.67 before weakening in the final furlong to finish fourth. Cutting back to five furlongs (and perhaps setting a slightly easier pace) should make Live In the Dream tough to catch at Santa Anita.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Top Selection: Three-year-old #7 Speed Boat Beach (3-1) has run two giant races on dirt. He wired his debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs as a juvenile at Del Mar in track-record time. Then, after winning two of three starts on turf to wrap up 2022, Speed Boat Beach returned from a long layoff to finish second in the Sept. 30 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) against older rivals. Speed Boat Beach was only beaten a head after dueling for the lead and is eligible to move forward in his second start back, especially after working a bullet six furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in 1:11 for five-time Sprint-winning trainer Bob Baffert.

Second Choice: #8 Elite Power (9-5) won the 2022 Breeders' Cup Sprint as part of an eight-race win streak. A slow pace compromised his chances when finishing second in the Forego (G1) last time out, but there isn't a crazy amount of speed in this year's Sprint field, so Elite Power may need a maximum performance to reel in Speed Boat Beach.

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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