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Jeremy Plonk has worked in the racing industry professionally for 20 years and has been a statistical consultant to Keeneland, Del Mar and Oaklawn Park, as well as NBC Sports and ESPN. He has been a national racing columnist for ESPN.com and Daily Racing Form and is the owner of Horse Player NOW, creators of the Night School national fan education program. A former chart caller for Equibase, he continues to be a public handicapper in the Horse Player NOW BUZZ report.
Keeneland Keys for Friday, April 26, 2013
What to Watch for Today: One more time with feeling! It’s closing day at Keeneland and before we get nostalgic and teary-eyed, there’s the business of cashing tickets. The Grade 2 $150,000 Elkorn Stakes puts the turf marathon males in the spotlight in Race 9. The record-setting meet for the Ramseys, Mike Maker and Joel Rosario gets a well-deserved curtain call.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat at the Keeneland website (http://www.keeneland.com/racing/racing-live-coverage) – also available on your mobile devices – or on Twitter @Keeenelandracing, where I provide up-to-the-minute picks and analysis.
Weather: Partly cloudy skies and temperatures pushing the mid-60s are forecasted. For up-to-the-minute weather updates for Keeneland, including the track surface temperature and today’s maintenance, click: http://www.keeneland.com/racing/track-conditions.
Polycapping 101: Here we go, race-by-race, with handicapping angles to help you get a leg up. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 is a maiden claiming route and note that favorites are just 2-for-18 in maiden claiming races this meet. Four of these 18 races went to 15-to-1 or more bombers, which is noticeable when you consider how formful this meet has been overall. In maiden claiming routes, favorites are 0-for-6 and the average winner a juicy 10-1 payoff this meeting. Gulfstream preppers won 4 of the 6 MCL turf routes so far this season. Coralita and Redwater are in from GP and both should be fair prices. 19 of 23 MCL routes on the Polytrack during all Spring Meets have been won by route preppers, even if we saw Mr Garde go sprint-to-route yesterday.
Lean all over the Keeneland workout runners in Race 2, our final baby race of the meet. All-time 55 of 59 dash winners during the Spring Meet for 2YOs had their most recent work at Keeneland, including the last 18 in a row. The Kee workers are No Nay Never, Sahara Hero, Laddie Boy and Justice Departmen and Supreme Sweet helping you eliminate 60 half the field off the top. Favorites are 4-for-6 with no winner over 9-2 odds this meet in the baby dashes with Wesley Ward notching 4 of the wins. He’s got No Nay Never and Justice Department. Chuck Peery won a baby dash yesterday and aims again with Laddie Boy. Only 3 of the 59 winners all-time had race experience, so don’t overemphasize those who have raced prior in this event.
Horses running back second time at the meet already have a pair of wins this season in situations like Race 3, a $25,000 level claimer. In fact, five “run-backs” have scored in claiming heats between $10k-$25k this season. Keep an eye on Haunted on this angle and St. Armands, though the latter is making his third start at the meet and 9th start of the year! The Ramsey entry of Let’s Do It and Live In Joy looks awfully formidable by any measure, while Wandering Kitten is bred to like he surface in his first try coming off the grass.
Look for a formful finish in Races 4 and 7 as turf allowances this meet have seen 10 of 20 favorites score and the average winner just 7-2 odds. In Race 4, Forecon looks to fit that bill nicely for a Graham Motion barn that’s had a whale of a meet overshadowed by Mike Maker’s record win total. Motion has won 4 turf allowances this meet in this category, 3 with Edgar Prado riding, and the stable also added yesterday’s Bewitch Stakes on grass with Strathnaver. His 6 turf wins this meet easily are most of any trainer. As for Race 7, watch how Forecon runs in Race 4 as you assess Political Courage, who chased him home April 7 at Keeneland. In either race, note that only 2 Fair Grounds shippers have won on grass all meet, while one-third (11 of 33) of all turf race winners were making their first starts of the calendar year.
Look for early speed in Race 5. Only 1 of 25 races all meet at 6 furlongs has been won by a horse more than 3-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and the average winner has been within a length of the front at that stage. Hamiltonian culd be lone speed toward the inside if routers Joes Blazing Aaron and Summer Breezing can’t keep up sprinting. Route speed has been what’s winning at this allowance class going 6F. Four of the 5 such races this meet were won by horses exiting route preps BUT with the ability to be within a length of the lead. The two route speeds could be the best look, “Joe” and “Summer.”
Starter allowance foes battle in Race 6 and these races have been public sanctuaries. Favorites are 4-for-6 at the meet and the average winner a mere 9-5 odds. Heavily favored Brandys Secret will push that stat even further. Two of the three starter allowances later in this meet have gone to “run-backs” who appeared earlier in the stand. Credit Crunch comes off a big try at the meet as does Megnog. If there’s a vulnerability to the favorite it’s that middle and deeper closers have dominated the 7 furlong races at the meet, winning 15 of 23.
Three-year-old maidens square off in Race 8 at seven furlongs. The 10 races at the meet have seen 9 of the winners either Gulfstream shippers (5) or first-time starters (4). Silver Flame is the lone GP invader. Of the rookies, Color Harmony and Peggy’s a Ten offer the most interest to me on works, pedigrees and connections. Frivolous’ debut second looks better when you consider that the half-mile split in that race was a length or two slower than average for the meet and did not flatter her closing style. But as we mentioned earlier, closers have been strong at this distance all season.
We close with a maiden claiming sprint in Race 10. Give early speed the edge as 10 of 12 maiden claiming sprints at this meeting have been won by horses within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 2 of 12 winners were horses exiting turf preps, while dirt preppers pocketed 7 of the wins. Conte offers potential speed even out of dirt races drawn inside under Calvin Borel. If he breaks with the first flight, it could be game over. Muggsy will be favored off a 1-year layoff and try to give Ward and Rosario a win for the road.
Feature Race Play: The Race 9 headliner is the 1-1/2 miles Grade 2 Elkhorn. The last 5 winners of this race all rated between 5-1/2 and 7 lengths off the early lead after the first half-mile. You don’t want a horse way back, and you won’t want to be near the engine. Favorites are just 1 for 6 in the last half-dozen Elkhorns, but every winner has been between 2-1 and 7-1. Three winners came off the turf at Gulfstream and 2 were “run-backs” making their second start of the meeting.
It also begs our attention that the last 5 editions of the Elkhorn can be renamed the “Roger & Shug Show.” Roger Attfield has won it 3 times, Shug McGaughey twice. Shug saddles Reflecting, who has the profile of Gulfstream winter and a Keeneland repeat performer. Attfield counters with Forte Dei Marmi, who is making his second start of the meet.
Finally, the last 5 winners of this race all prepped at 1-3/8 miles or farther. Shorter preps haven’t answered the call for endurance. The only horses in this race to fit that mold are Reflecting and Ioya Bigtime, the latter second here in the Sycamore last fall, the autumn counterpart to the Elkhorn.
I like Sky Blazer on paper for reasons not enveloped in the trends, but this profile spells out nicely that Reflecting had better be deeply into your plays.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.