Breeders’ Cup 2023: A Beginner’s Guide

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Breeders’ Cup 2023

The Breeders’ Cup races are North America’s year-end championship series for Thoroughbred racing. 

The series consists of fourteen Grade I races- the most prestigious level of race in the sport. Each race is designed to showcase a particular division, with the first five races being held on Friday and the remaining nine on Saturday. The first five are collectively referred to as “Future Stars Friday” and consist of races specifically restricted to two-year-olds, the youngest Thoroughbreds permitted to race; the Saturday races feature older horses, many of whom have stretched their greatness over multiple seasons of racing.

With so many top-class races, and so many top-class horses to fill them, the Breeders’ Cup series can seem a little overwhelming to new fans or first-time bettors. Here are some Breeders’ Cup tips for newcomers to the sport, whether they choose to support their horses by backing them at the betting window or cheering them down the stretch.

Consider The Track

Most major Thoroughbred races worldwide have a “home track,” that is, a single track that hosts the race year after year. For example, the Kentucky Derby has never been run anywhere other than Churchill Downs, while the race it was modeled after, the Epsom Derby, has only ever been moved from Epsom when world war necessitated it.

This is not the case for this series, and it has obviously influenced the Breeders’ Cup Classic Results. Since its inception in 1984, it has been made clear that the series was to rotate to different tracks all around North America. Although several major tracks have hosted the series more than once, and Santa Anita Park once would end up hosting it three times in a row, in general the average racehorse is unlikely to run a Breeders’ Cup race at the same track twice in their career. This can make predicting the races somewhat tricky.

However, while the series moves from track to track, the tracks that are selected to host it are tracks that also hold their own top-tier races throughout the year. This means that for any given Breeders’ Cup race, it is likely that at least a few horses in the field have found success at that track at some point in their careers. This familiarity can give horses an edge.

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup races were a shining example of this. The 2022 Breeders’ Cup races were held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, and four of the winners had demonstrated recent graded stakes success at Keeneland. Wonder Wheel rolled her Darley Alcibaedes win into Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies success, and Forte leapt from his Breeders’ Futurity win into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners’ circle. The next day, Malathaat, who had won the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, added the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, while Franklin Stakes winner Caravel provided an upset victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

This year’s series will be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. Santa Anita Park hosts many graded events annually, which means that several top-level horses have experience there. It might, therefore, be worth looking at the winners of the following races on Breeders’ Cup Day:

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile:

American Pharoah Stakes- to be run on October 7th

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf:

Gamely Stakes- won by Macadamia

Breeders’ Cup Mile:

Shoemaker Mile Stakes- won by Exaulted

Breeders’ Cup Distaff:

Beholder Mile Stakes: won by A Mo Reay

Breeders’ Cup Turf:

Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes- won by Gold Phoenix

Breeders’ Cup Classic:

Malibu Stakes- won by Taiba

Santa Anita Handicap- won by Stilleto Boy

Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes- won by Defunded

Awesome Again Stakes- to be run on September 30th

Consider The Foreigners

The full, formal name of the Breeders’ Cup series is the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, and that title is well deserved. Horses from around the world have found their way to Breeders’ Cup glory, with winners coming from Ireland, Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, and Japan. 

Foreign horses have a good track record in the Breeders’ Cup for two main reasons. The first, paradoxically, is that the trip overseas can be a long and arduous one. Therefore, trainers generally only send their horses to the Breeders’ Cup races if they believe they have a genuine chance to win. 

The second, and more significant, of the two reasons is that half of the Breeders’ Cup races are run on the grass. Grass racing in the United States is secondary to dirt racing, but in most other countries, grass surfaces are what their horses are born and bred to run on. This disparity is especially stark for the Future Stars Friday races; while nearly all major racing events for two-year-olds worldwide are run on grass, there are very few graded events for US-based juvenile racers that take place on that surface. As a result, all three of last year’s Future Stars Friday events on the grass were captured by horses from Ireland.

Consider The Champions

While this was not the case for the earliest years of the series, more and more often over the last two decades, horses have maintained their form long enough to capture more than one Breeders’ Cup race. 

Recent examples include Modern Games (winner of the Juvenile Turf in 2021 and the Mile in 2022), Golden Pal (winner of the Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2020 and the Turf Sprint in 2021), Knicks Go (winner of the Dirt Mile in 2020 and the Classic in 2021), Stormy Liberal (winner of the Turf Sprint in 2017 and 2018), and Roy H (winner of the Sprint in 2017 and 2018).

While all of the aforementioned horses have retired, there are a few horses aiming toward a 2023 Breeders’ Cup race with one title already under their belt. Forte, who as stated earlier won last year’s Juvenile, could repair his reputation with a win in this year’s Classic. Cody’s Wish, the most popular horse in training as well as one of the most talented, hopes to replicate his 2022 Dirt Mile win, while his stablemate Elite Power is trying for a second Sprint. 

Perhaps most exciting of all, the Filly and Mare Sprint will likely feature a showdown between two former Breeders’ Cup champions: last year’s winner Goodnight Olive and 2021 Juvenile Fillies winner Echo Zulu.

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