Let our experts help you handicap the day's races at Keeneland. To see the analysis provided by each handicapper, choose a handicapper name on the left, then choose a date.
Please note that selections typically are available about 48 hours in advance of the race.
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 Thursday, April 18, 2013
What to Watch for Today: America’s top-rated juvenile turf filly of 2012, Watsdachances, makes her long-awaiting sophomore return in today’s Grade 3 $100,000 Appalachian Stakes. The 10-filly feature anchors a late pick four that’s bursting at the seams with large field sizes.
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: Warm temps in the low 80s and partly cloudy skies are in the forecast. Winds reaching 20 mph are possible, so keep an eye on the flags (tip: flags to the left favor early speed horses). 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: We go race-by-race with handicapping angles and trends to help point you toward the winners. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 is a starter allowance and these races in the Spring traditionally have been strongholds for the Turfway Park invaders. Two of the three held this meet were won via Turfway (the other had laid off since last Fall Meet at Keeneland). Trainer George Leonard III goes for his second starter win of the meet when he sends out TP-based Brickyard. Leonard also won a starter event here April 10 with Point Finish. Whatthecatdrugin wheels back on 7 days’ rest off a shrewd $40,000 claim knowing full well he was eligible for many starter allowance conditions. Trainer Tevis McCauley has been prolific over the years with such quick run-backs at Keeneland. Of his 11 Poly era wins, 7 have been with horses coming back at the meet on 7-19 days’ rest from prior Keeneland starts. From a pace standpoint, it could set up for the Chicago closer Francois, who loves synthetic footing.
Race 2 is a upper-level claiming sprint for a $40,000 tag. These races historically have been excellent fits for Fair Grounds raiders and twice this meet we’ve already seen that in action with 6-1 Pisgah Station and 15-1 Stormy Going. From a pure handicapping standpoint, this looks like an extremely tough race, but Sunshineandsilence carries good Fair Grounds form to the dance and could fit well at another square price. Trainer Rusty Arnold’s horses have won 19 Keeneland Polytrack sprints at 7 furlongs (1 behind Ken McPeek for the most all-time) and his filly Dark Nebula pairs with Julien Leparoux, who rides this trip exceptionally.
Two-year-old dashing fillies battle in Race 3 and we always remind you that 51 of 56 all-time Polytrack baby race winners during Spring Meets had their most recent workout at Keeneland. That factor nearly always separates half the field in the handicapping process to start. Wesley Ward owns a Keeneland-best 19 Spring Meet juvenile wins on the Poly, and has captured 2 of the first 3 offered this meet. He sends out Mary At the Cove with leading jockey Joel Rosario, as well as the uncoupled runner Bluesville. The latter is sired by Bring the Heat, who already has sired 3 of those Ward-trained baby winners. Only 2 of these races ever have been won by horses running back second-time at the meet (2007, 2009), so don’t overemphasize the experience gained by Mad Princess and Deliver earlier in the meet. E Built This City is bred to be ready for this trip and course and owns a bullet workout over the course. If Ward is to be upended, it’s likely by this City Zip filly, and note City Zip has sired a trio of Spring Meet juvenile winners in the Poly era at Keeneland.
Race 4 is a $16,000 claiming route, and so far this season the $16-$20k claiming ranks have been owned by the Fair Grounds shippers, who’ve captured 3 of 4 such races. Dangerous Dream, Holiday Broad and Touch of Revenge bring the New Orleans mojo with them. Holiday Broad is trained by Mike Maker, the all-time leader by a huge margin in Polytrack claiming route wins. This is his game, and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey are well-known for dropping in class to win this kind of race. Holiday Broad appears one of the day’s standouts to me.
Deep closers have stormed home late to win all 3 “non-winners of 2 lifetime” claiming sprints this Spring Meet like we see in Race 5. Normally 3-race samples don’t catch the eye, but when the 3 winners were -6, 10.5 and -11 lengths behind after the opening half-miles you take notice. He’s So Fine shortening distance under patient Julien Leparoux might fit the late profile on the scene. While John Gordon has yet to race on the Polytrack, his damsire Tale of the Cat joins Distorted Humor as the most prolific Keeneland Polytrack sprint sires ever. Don’t be surprised if John Gordon takes to the footing.
Turf sprints like Race 6 are rare commodities at Keeneland in the spring. This marks just the third of the meet so far, the others being the Grade 3 Shakertown last Saturday and a colts’ division of this allowance race held on Wednesday. In eight previous turf sprint allowances during Spring Meets from 2010-2012, 7 of the 8 winners had prepped on turf, while 5 of the 8 winners exited sprint preps. Trainer Wesley Ward’s 3 turf allowance sprint wins since Fall 2006 are second-most of any trainer (Todd Pletcher has 5) and he’ll try to add another with Sweet and Lowdown. That runner is well-drawn in post 7, which has been the co-winningest post in Keeneland turf sprints as the middle of the track has the edge here. Christophe Clement, trainer of It’s Saturday Nite (coincidentally in post 5), who will be heavily bet, seeks his first turf sprint win at Keeneland since our database began in Fall 2006.
Gulfstream shippers have done well in the 3-year-old maiden special weight contests like we see in Race 7, winning 3 of the first 6 offered at the 2013 Spring Meet. That’s good news for Argosy and Pacific Theater, the latter a likely solid favorite coming off a fast debut third and shortening distance. Speed horses have dominated the 6-1/2 furlong 3YO MSWs on the Poly during past Spring Meets with an average winner only three-quarters of a length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Eight of those 14 races were won by the half-mile leader, an inordinate percentage compared to the overall Poly sprint profile. No horse moving turf-to-Polytrack has won at this class/distance in those aforementioned 14 races (9 dirt preppers, 4 first-time starters, 1 synthetic prep). If there’s to be an upset, perhaps Pegasus Star off a good fourth here last Fall Meet to eventual Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge. Braveman could show speed in his debut as a horse bred to relish the Polytrack and is a very live longshot for a Tim Hamm barn that did very well here last Fall Meet with limited starters.
Race 9 is a $20,000 maiden claiming route. Gulfstream shippers have won an amazing 11 of the last 16 maiden claiming routes during Spring Meets. Kid Twist wintered at Gulfstream and failed vs. tougher here April 6 but runs back quickly for Ken McPeek in a move that is very successful for the barn at Keeneland with second-timers at the meet, especially in routes. McPeek’s 6 maiden claiming route wins in Spring Meets on Poly is easily best all-time (no one else more than 20. Kitten Goes Pro also is the only horse with some GP form to consider in this field. Lean to horses with route preps as 20 of 25 maiden claiming sprint routes all-time on Poly were won by horses exiting a route tune-up.
Feature Race Play: Fillies with some tactical speed have excelled in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes in recent years. Over the last six runnings, the average winner has been just 1-1/2 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile and no filly has closed more than 4 lengths from that juncture to win. Keep that pace profile in mind as the Race 8 $100,000 feature unfolds.
Likely heavy favorite Watsdachances likes to do her best running from behind, but Javier Castellano may be the best turf pace reader in the game today. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies runner-up will try to win in her season return, but that’s not impossible here. We saw Winter Memories ship here in 2011 to accomplish just that feat. Plus, Keeneland turf miles traditionally are havens for top-class horses making their seasonal returns with success – Wise Dan being a recent example last Friday in the Maker’s 46 Mile.
If you’re going to beat Watsdachances, the most likely scenario comes from a forwardly placed horse who beats her to the punch. Eden Prairie and To My Valentine may vie for the lead here with Bethany Belle another with some early interest. To May Valentine was Group 3 placed in France and favored in a Group 2 at Maisons-Laffitte, so she brings both speed and class.
This looks like a cold operation to me with Watsdachances mowing down To My Valentine in the shadow of the wire.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.