The Breeders’ Cup races, Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship series, are coming up quickly. Many divisional standouts have already ensconced themselves as horses to watch, and most of the major prep races for the series have already been run. The fields, while not set in stone, have largely come into shape.
Let’s take a look at the different divisions represented over this wonderful weekend of racing, and who the top contenders are likely to be.
The first day of the Breeders’ Cup picks for the weekend is dedicated solely to two-year-old races, three of which take place on the turf and two on the dirt. In recent years, it can be difficult to follow the form of these developing racers prior to the Breeders’ Cup, simply because most of them have no more than four prior starts. However, while there may be a lack of seasoning for the juveniles, there is no want for brilliance.
The grass races (Juvenile Turf Sprint, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Fillies Turf) are almost always dominated by European entries, and this year is no exception. Leading Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien looks to bring a heavy hand into these races, with hopefuls in Opera Singer, Mountain Bear, Unquestionable, and Capulet. Training is a family affair for the O’Briens: one son, Joseph, trains Juvenile Turf contender Islandsinthestream, and another son, Donnacha, trains Juvenile Fillies Turf hopeful Porta Fortuna.
On the dirt side, three standouts look to lock horns in the Juvenile: Timberlake, Muth, and Locked, each winner of Breeders’ Cup Challenge races as their final preps, will vie for year-end championship honors. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies looks to be a bit more wide open, with many of the top preps taken by longshots; however, there is no question who the sentimental favorite will be. Tamara was not only a dominant winner of the Grade I Del Mar Debutante Stakes, but she is also a daughter of three-time Breeders’ Cup-winning champion mare Beholder.
This race sadly lost a bit of its luster this week with the injury to Echo Zulu, who had been the divisional leader. The top contender is likely her main rival, Goodnight Olive, who won this race last year. Should Goodnight Olive fail to make a showing in the race, four-year-olds Matareya (who defeated Goodnight Olive in the GI Derby City Distaff this year), Society (winner of the Grade III Chicago Stakes), and Eda (a graded stakes winner at host track Santa Anita) could pick up the pieces.
Caravel was a surprise winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at 42-1, but she has proven her win was no fluke with three stakes wins in 2023, including two graded stakes wins against male competition. Her victory in the Grade I Jaipur Stakes, a Win And You’re In race, has reserved her a spot in the gate on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Horses likely to contest her crown include a trio of foreign invaders in Highfield Princess, Bradsell, and Live In The Dream, all of whom also won Win And You’re In prep races.
Cody’s Wish entered last year’s Dirt Mile with a good reputation and strong sentimental backing, but that pales in comparison to the following he has developed since. A legitimate contender for USA Horse of the Year, Cody’s Wish won the Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes and the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap before trying his hand at longer distances in the Grade I Whitney Stakes, in which he finished third.
A return to sprints brought him back to the winner’s circle in the Grade II Vosburgh Stakes. One of the top contenders looking to unseat him in the Dirt Mile is Practical Move, who only has an allowance win since April, but had won two of Santa Anita’s key Kentucky Derby preps in the spring.
The Filly and Mare Turf this year looks to be a truly international affair, with hopefuls being based in Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Japan. Champion turf mare In Italian has an appropriately international name, but don’t let that fool you; she has been a dominant force in American grass racing for two years now. Mawj, recent winner of the QEII Challenge Stakes, could also cause quite a stir if she chooses to enter.
This star-studded race should settle the sprint championship. Elite Power, who won this race last year, has since added victories in the Grade III Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia as well ast the Grade II True North Stakes and the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. His winning streak was snapped in the Grade I Forego Stakes by fellow Sprint contender Gunite. Both of them are heading up against West Coast sprinting star Dr. Schivel, who was a mere nose away from winning the 2021 edition of this race.
Japan’s top miler, Songline, sealed a spot in the Mile starting gate with not just one, but two wins in Win And You’re In races, winning both the Group I Victoria Mile and the Group I Yasuda Kinen. Should she make the long journey to America, she is likely to tangle with fellow foreign invaders in Master of the Seas and Inspiral. Seven-year-old veteran racehorse Casa Creed is likely to attempt the Breeders’ Cup for a fourth time. All will likely be vying for second-favoritism in the event that US-based superstar Up To The Mark chooses entry in this race instead of the longer Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The Distaff looks to be a matchup between Idiomatic, the top older mare of the East; Adare Manor, the top older mare of the West; and Pretty Mischievous, the top three-year-old filly. Idiomatic looks to follow the same path to victory as Malathaat last year, with a dominant win in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes; however, Adare Manor is easily the most experienced over the Santa Anita surface. Pretty Mischievous enters the race following a loss in the Grade I Cotillion Stakes, but could definitely make a showing with a fast pace to run at.
Up To The Mark has been sensational on the grass this year; however, distance is a big question mark, as he is unproven beyond 1 ¼ miles. The same cannot be said for War Like Goddess, Auguste Rodin, Get Smokin, Bolshoi Ballet, and Mostahdaf, all of whom have won graded stakes races at 1 ½ miles or more. However, the southern California grass courses are often far firmer than European courses, or even those on the East Coast of America, which can greatly alter the outcome of a race.
Barring defections, the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is most likely to be Arcangelo, the leading three-year-old based on wins in the Grade III Peter Pan Stakes, the Grade I Belmont Stakes, and the Grade I Travers Stakes. Forte, winner of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and top Kentucky Derby contender until his scratch the morning of the race, has faced defeat at Arcangelo’s hands in both the Belmont and the Travers, and hopes to regain both his reputation and his championship crown with a Classic win. They will both have to grapple with leading older male White Abarrio, who has, after moving to a new trainer in Rick Dutrow, demons