Breeders’ Cup 2023: Expert picks and previews for Friday’s races

Day 1 of the Breeders’ Cup, which is at Santa Anita Park this year, is devoted to the juveniles: all five races are for 2-year-old horses on a card called “Future Stars Friday.” Two-year-old racing in the United States generally begins in the late spring, and many juveniles won’t debut until the summer or fall, resulting in fields of horses with a variety of experience and success. Some horses will have raced only a few times, while others are more seasoned.

Three of the five races are run on the turf, which lures entries from Europe, where the bulk of racing is done on grass, often on a surface that is softer from moisture than the turf at Santa Anita Park will be. In the turf races, I’ll be looking at horses that have been successful on firm turf.

Given the runners’ relatively light race records, pedigree could be a significant factor, particularly in looking at distance and stamina, as well as whether the pedigree is turf-heavy.

The Breeders’ Cup broadcast will air on USA Network from 4 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. Those watching online can turn to and the NBC Sports app.

Morning-line odds are in parentheses.

Juvenile Turf Sprint

Post time: 5 p.m. ET

Purse: $1 million

Distance: 5 furlongs

In existence only since 2018, the Juvenile Turf Sprint has been won by only three trainers: Todd Pletcher, Wesley Ward (three times) and Brit Michael Appleby, who since 2021 has won 23 North American graded stakes races, including six Breeders’ Cup races. He won this race last year, and he’s the only trainer to have won the race previously to have an entry this year.

So it’s no surprise that Appleby’s Big Evs is the 3-1 favorite here. In five races at this distance, Big Evs has won three times and finished second once. He’s run exclusively in England and at this distance, over turf labeled “soft” and “good”; he’s never run on firm turf, the condition he’s likely to encounter today.

Purchased by his current owners six months ago, Kentucky-bred Slider (8-1) cost $240,000 and is the only horse in the race to have won both at the distance and at Santa Anita. He ran his first two races on dirt and his pedigree is more dirt than turf, which makes the switch to turf a curious choice, but even though this is a big step up in competition, his last race makes him worth a look.

U.S.-based trainer George Weaver has three runners in this race, two of which he shipped to England to run at Royal Ascot in June. With a two-length win in the Grade 2 Queen Mary Stakes, Crimson Advocate (4-1) became the rare U.S. runner to come home with a Royal Ascot win. Crimson Advocate hasn’t raced since then, and this is a tough crowd in which to return from a layoff, but with a win in England, a win on firm turf, and a win at the distance, he intrigues.

Juvenile Fillies

Post time: 5:40 p.m. ET

Purse: $2 million

Distance: 1 1/16 mile

You don’t generally find an odds-on favorite in a Breeders’ Cup race, but at 4-5 on the morning line, Tamara might be an exception. She’s raced only twice, winning easily each time, and the buzz is that she’s the real deal. She’s trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who’s won more Breeders’ Cup races (27) than any other rider. She’s never run beyond seven furlongs, and there’s an old racetrack cliche that says you should never bet a horse as the favorite doing something she’s never done before. I won’t be surprised if she wins, but with a limited budget, I’ll look elsewhere for a little more bang for my buck.

Chatalas (8-1) has a win at the track and distance, and that win came in a Grade 2 stakes race last month. Her only loss in three races came to Tamara, and her pedigree on her sire’s side screams distance: Gun Runner won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2017 and three other races at classic distances to close out his career.

At 20-1, Life Talk is a longshot that catches my eye. Also sired by Gun Runner, he’s out of a mare by Bernardini, who won the 2006 Preakness and Traver Stakes, and who came up just a length short in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. She’s won at a mile, and this is a big ask, but she’ll be on my tickets.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Post time: 6:20 p.m. ET

Purse: $1 million

Distance: 1 mile

Though European-bred horses have won this race in three of the last five years, two of those winners were based in the U.S., taking the Euro edge off this particular Breeders’ Cup race.

Of the European invaders in this race, the Irish-bred Content (15-1) catches my eye. She’s won just twice in six races, with a second and a third, but the win did come at this race distance and in a Group 3. She’s trained by Aidan O’Brien, who is a force, to put it mildly, in international turf racing.

Both Austere (12-1) and She Feels Pretty (4-1) have raced only twice, but they’ve won both of those races, the latter last out winning the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes, and both horses have wins at the distance. Trainers Brendan Walsh and Cherie DeVaux are not quite household names, and both have a reputation for getting the most out of their horses.


Post time: 7 p.m. ET

Purse: $2 million

Distance: 1 1/16 mile

Unless some fluky horse or huge longshot wins, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile nearly always vaults to Kentucky Derby Buzz Horse status. There’s generally not much correlation between winning this race and Kentucky Derby success. The last horse to win both was Street Sense back in 2006.

But contrary to popular belief, there’s more to horse racing than the Kentucky Derby, and past winners of the Juvenile have gone to major wins in races like the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

In a field of 10 horses, trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have three runners each. Pletcher horses have won three editions of the race, most recently last year with Forte, while Baffert trainees have won five.

Of the Baffert runners, I’m inclined towards Muth (4-1), who sold for $2 million in March. Undefeated in two races, both at Santa Anita, one at the distance of this race, he’s a Grade 1 winner with an impressive distance pedigree: His sire Good Magic won the Preakness and was the sire of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mage, while his dam is out of Uncle Mo, who won this race in 2010.

Like Muth, Pletcher’s Locked (7-2) won a Grade 1 race last out at this 1 1/16-mile distance. Locked is another Gun Runner offspring, and his offspring are proving to be (pardon the pun) runners.

At a bit of price, I’ll throw in The Wine Steward, who was second by a half-length to Locked in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last out. Sire Vino Rosso won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2019, and his sire Curlin won the Classic twice.

Juvenile Turf

Post time: 7:40 p.m. ET

Purse: $1 million

Distance: 1 mile

Since its inception in 2007, this race has been dominated by European runners, who’ve won the race 11 times. Only three are entered this year, I think that the U.S. horses can mount a challenge to them, and I’ll be including at least two of them on my tickets.

Endlessly (5-1) has a gorgeous turf pedigree and has won all three of his starts at this distance, including the Grade 3 Zuma Beach Stakes for California-based trainer Michael McCarthy.

At 20-1, trainer Graham Motion’s Tok Tok is worth a shot; an accomplished turf trainer, Motion has been known to spring big upsets in big races.

Of the Euros, I’m leaning towards Aidan O’Brien’s Mountain Bear at 12-1.

(Photo of Muth: Horsephotos / Getty Images)

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