The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is the ultimate handicapping puzzle for horseplayers, and it’s especially appealing to those who adhere to the maxim of “bet a little to win a lot.”
The 14-race slate of Breeders’ Cup races brings together great horses from all regions in the U.S. as well as from overseas, which means that year after year, top-class runners with full résumés go off at odds far higher than they would in any other setting.
Finding and playing longshots in the Breeders’ Cup can become even more lucrative if you are able to also select – and toss from your betting slips – several horses that are underlays; that is, ones that are receiving more support from bettors than they should and thus carrying lower odds (check out ABR’s primer on gambling terms for more info). Zigging while everyone else zags is the essence of astute betting in any environment, and in horse racing it can lead to astronomical payouts.
So, which morning-line favorites in the 2023 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park are vulnerable to lose at short odds? Four candidates are listed below from what is shaping up to be an especially competitive 40th anniversary edition of the World Championships.
It’s not a slight on this talented filly who’s 2-for-2 so far to say that she probably won’t be the post-time favorite in what is a loaded edition of the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Donnacha O’Brien-trained #6 Porta Fortuna is pegged at 5-1 on the morning line, and three more opponents – Buchu, Carla’s Way, and Hard to Justify – carry 6-1 odds. She Feels Pretty looked ultra-impressive winning the Johnnie Walker Natalma Stakes by 4 ¼ lengths at Woodbine in September, and if the Cherie DeVaux trainee improves off of that in her third career start she certainly has a shot at winning. But this race is absolutely wide open, and in addition to Porta Fortuna (who I believe will be the post-time fave and is 2-for-2 on good to firm turf) there are some double-digit horses who could surprise. Two that I’ll be using in exacta and trifecta bets are French import #4 Laulne (15-1), who hasn’t raced yet on firm ground but overall is 3-for-6 and moves to top West Coast turf trainer Phil D’Amato’s barn; and #10 Austere (12-1), another filly that’s 2-for-2 in her career and comes in off of an eye-catching three-length win at Kentucky Downs for trainer Brendan Walsh.
The defending Filly and Mare Sprint winner is a justifiable favorite in this year’s renewal, especially considering that one of her two principal rivals, Echo Zulu, was retired due to injury. Another formidable foe is entered, however, and in my view 5-2 shot #7 Society has a very good chance to lead the entire field gate-to-wire in this seven-furlong test. Society comes in off of two consecutive pulverizing stakes wins at the distance at Ellis Park and Charles Town, and while Goodnight Olive soundly defeated her back in April at Keeneland, this Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner filly looks like a different athlete now, with the speed figures to prove it.
Much like Society, Idiomatic is a very fast, high-cruising machine – and this Curlin filly has both a more accomplished résumé and versatility in her running style, taking the Delaware Handicap from off the pace last summer after stumbling at the start and then dominating two Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga and Keeneland by leading at every point of call and never being challenged. Why is she vulnerable in the Longines Distaff, then? Because I think she will be challenged, primarily by the filly drawn just outside of her in the starting gate. #5 Adare Manor (4-1) is also a fast front-runner who is 6-for-9 at Santa Anita, and I anticipate her jockey Juan Hernandez being aggressive from the outset and taking Adare Manor’s “A” game to Idiomatic. That could create a tempo that’s just hot enough for an off-the-pace type to close late and win. Veteran #9 Clairiere (4-1), third by a head in this race last year, and Longines Kentucky Oaks winner #3 Pretty Mischievous (8-1) are candidates, but the former has lost a step in my opinion and Pretty Mischievous is a cut below in terms of speed figures. The intriguing contender here is #8 Randomized (6-1), who has won three in a row on the lead and therefore would seem to be an ideal third participant in an early pace duel with Idiomatic and Adare Manor. This is admittedly conjecture, but I have a feeling that trainer Chad Brown and first-time rider Jose Ortiz might try a different approach Saturday and have this 3-year-old Nyquist filly sit just behind the leaders, try to reel them in at the quarter pole, and then summon stamina first shown when winning the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes Presented by Keeneland Sales to secure the victory.
The shape of the Longines Classic has changed considerably over the past four days, and not for the better, with prominent 3-year-olds Geaux Rocket Ride, Mage, and Arcangelo all declared out of the field and Geaux Rocket Ride undergoing major surgery. Arabian Knight is another 3-year-old who was made the morning-line favorite in the Classic despite coming into the race with only four career starts and also drawing an outside post (12th, and now 11th after Arcangelo’s withdrawal). This Uncle Mo colt, who enters off of a game neck win in the 1 ¼-mile FanDuel Racing Pacific Classic Stakes, is undeniably talented and his win chances are enhanced by the absence of the above trio, especially Geaux Rocket Ride and Arcangelo. But as with the Longines Distaff, I envision a pace duel materializing in the Classic between Arabian Knight and Pennsylvania Derby winner #6 Saudi Crown (12-1), with UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis The Royal winner #5 Derma Sotogake (20-1) possibly joining the fray. Notably, in Arabian Knight’s only loss – the TVG.com Haskell Stakes back in July – he was not able to secure the early lead and faded to third. That was his first start coming back from a nearly six-month layoff, and he rebounded to win the Pacific Classic, but I think Arabian Knight’s inexperience and lack of foundation could cost him if he hooks up with Saudi Crown, especially if he has to use some of his early speed to reach a good forward position after breaking outside of that rival.
While there’s certainly no Flightline (or even Life Is Good) among the older horses entered in the 2023 Classic, it’s a respectable bunch with several runners who are capable of winning. Among them, #3 White Abarrio (4-1) may be overbet, #11 Bright Future (10-1) has the most upside befitting his name, and even late-running #2 Zandon and #13 Proxy (both 12-1) are both in with a chance if the early tempo is swift. Japanese invader #8 Ushba Tesoro (4-1) is the wild card, and if his starting-gate problems during training at Santa Anita turn out to be a temporary concern, he’s a threat as well.