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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Breeders' Cup Juvenile
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.
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
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.
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
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Breeders' Cup Turf
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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'
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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.