Author: Lindsay Griffin
The Breeders’ Cup races are Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship series, and they are fast approaching! On the first Friday and Saturday of November, some of racing’s best trainers, jockeys, and horses will meet at Santa Anita Park in several head-to-head challenges in order to determine which athletes are the best 2023 had to offer. It will be a sight to see!
Of course, these races offer excellent betting opportunities on top of great races to watch. How can you determine which entries to place your wagers on? Let’s take a look.
Horses for Courses
One of the defining features of the Breeders’ Cup series is that it does not have a permanent home; instead, the series travels to different tracks across America. This year, the races will be held at Santa Anita Park, a historic racetrack in southern California.
Last year, when the races were held at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, horses who had previously shown good form at Keeneland translated that into wins in the Breeders’ Cup. The winners of the Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies, Forte and Wonder Wheel, had both won their previous prep races at Keeneland. The next day, winners who had previously won at Keeneland included Goodnight Olive (Filly and Mare Sprint), Caravel (Turf Sprint), and Malathaat (Distaff). Click here to find the latest 2023 Breeders’ Cup odds by TwinSpires.com.
This year, a number of horses who have success at Santa Anita are planning to enter the Breeders’ Cup series. Muth, winner of the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes, will be among the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
A Mo Reay, who won the Grade I Beholder Mile earlier this year, is pointing to the Distaff. Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile winner Gold Phoenix is aiming for the Mile, while Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes winner Didia is a contender for the Filly and Mare Turf. Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move may shorten up in the Dirt Mile or try the longer distance in the Classic.
While horses are, on average, racing less often than they used to, experience is still a key factor when handicapping a race. Excluding the two-year-old races, last year’s Breeders’ Cup winners had an average of 9.1 prior lifetime starts. Horses with experience know how to navigate races and handle the toughest competition.
It also may be helpful if your entry has prior experience in the Breeders’ Cup series. A total of 26 horses have won more than one Breeders’ Cup race, with 19 winning the same race on multiple occasions, and seven winning separate races. Beholder (herself the dam of Juvenile Fillies hopeful Tamara) falls into both categories, having won the 2012 Juvenile Fillies and then taken the Distaff in both 2013 and 2016.
This year, horses looking to score a repeat win in their Breeders’ Cup race include 2022 Filly and Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive, 2022 Dirt Mile winner Cody’s Wish, 2022 Turf Sprint winner Caravel, and 2022 Sprint winner Elite Power. In addition, 2022 Juvenile winner Forte hopes to add the Classic to his resume.
Putting the “Breed” in Breeders’ Cup
Knowing a horse’s parentage can be extremely helpful when deciding whether or not they stand a chance in a major event such as a Breeders’ Cup race. This could include knowing whether a horse’s close relatives have had success at that level of competition.
When it comes to the female family, there often is not enough data to draw a significant conclusion, as mares cannot produce as many offspring as stallions can. However, there is a precedent of mares producing multiple Breeders’ Cup winners and/or contenders. Cee’s Song produced Classic runner-up Budroyale as well as dual Classic winner Tiznow. Leslie’s Lady, the dam of the aforementioned Beholder, also produced Mendelssohn, winner of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
There is also the story of the great Personal Ensign and her progeny. Personal Ensign, one of racing’s all-time great mares, closed out her career with a win in the 1988 Distaff. Her daughter, My Flag, then won the 1995 Juvenile Fillies. A historic trio was completed when My Flag’s daughter, Storm Flag Flying, won her own edition of the Juvenile Fillies in 2002.
All of this history makes Tamara look like an attractive prospect in the Juvenile Fillies, as female families don’t come any richer than hers. Mawj should also be given a good shot, as she was produced from the same dam as last year’s Mile winner, Modern Games.
Sires, on the other hand, often have a lot of data available as they can produce literally hundreds of offspring. Of the fourteen individual horses who won Breeders’ Cup races, ten were sired by horses who had previously sired other Breeders’ Cup winners. Dubawi sired both the winner of the 2022 Mile (Modern Games) and the winner of the 2022 Turf (Rebel’s Romance), while Curlin hit a trifecta with the winners of the Dirt Mile (Cody’s Wish), Sprint (Elite Power), and Distaff (Malathaat).
Also, some of the sires had themselves won Breeders’ Cup races. The aforementioned Curlin was the hero of the 2007 Classic. Ghostzapper, who sired Filly and Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive, took the 2004 Classic. The results are clear: when looking for a Breeders’ Cup candidate, a sire with Breeders’ Cup experience is a giant green flag.