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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.
Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Thursday, April 10, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Something old, something new – but 2 very interesting runners on the Keeneland card. Derby Kitten, winner of the 2011 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, returns to the oval where he had his greatest success in Race 6. Two races later, the royally bred Morepheus makes his US and Keenland debut when the brother to European superstar Frankel makes his 2014 return.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live blog/chat 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: A dry, partly cloudy day in the low 70s is forecasted. But it’s supposed to be very windy, gusts around 25 mph, so watch the flags. Flags to the left favor speed as horses turn into the stretch and no one wants to change places.
Polycapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to give you the inside stats. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp) that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!
Race 1 is for claiming sprinters going 6 furlongs. Rail-drawn Lookn Mighty Fast ran in a mighty fast race here last Fall Meet. The 1:08.79 was the fastest of 34 at the 6F distance all meet long and faster than any other race by more than 2 lengths. Third, beaten 8 lengths, wasn’t a bad effort in that one at all considering. But he’s not the only coming out of a fleet heat – notice Fleet Beat won in the Fall in 1:09.51, fourth-fastest time at the meet. It looks difficult to get past these two.
The average winner in maiden claiming 6-furlong sprints in past Spring Meets on the Poly is almost 9-1, solidly above average, so don’t be afraid to price shop in Race 2. Early speed has been very strong in these races with fields of 10 or more, with the average winner only a half-length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 1 winner closed from more than 3 lengths back at that juncture from 18 such chances. Only about one-quarter of these races are won by horses turning back from a route prep – and dirt-prepped horses own a solid statistical edge. The dirt sprint preppers in this race are Miss Delstar, First Freedom, Holly in China and Already Red, which may help narrow a bulky field of 12.
Race 3 is a unique field of 5 – something we just don’t see much at Keeneland. It averages about 3 occurrences per meet. Small fields tend to flatter early speed with less pressure coming, and the 25 such Poly sprints with fields of 5 or fewer all-time show an average winner less than a half-length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Exactly 80 percent of the winners were within 2 lengths of the lead at that juncture. And the emphasis has been even higher with quality allowance horses like this. Leian or Unhedged would figure to have the speed in this race, and the former was a fast baby-dash winner here 2 Springs ago.
Basement level $10,000 claimers route in Race 4, and this has been Turfway Park territory over past Spring Meets. Of the 22 held to date, 13 went to horses prepped last at TP – including 1 of the 2 help opening weekend. Unfortunately, we have 8 to choose from in this race made up predominantly of the Turfway set. All of these also have the requisite route prep. It’s not a field easily narrowed on the trends.
Race 5 is for the older maiden special weight sprinters, aged 4 and up. We’ll see 3 or 4 of these at a typical Spring Meet for the veterans. Favorites are 12-for-26 in these Spring races at any distance and an even 50% in sprints specifically. Gulfstream shippers own 9 wins, no other circuit has produced more than 3 – though favorite Relentless Spirit won here opening weekend off a layoff from the Churchill fall meet. First-time starters have won only 4 of the 26, so unless someone looks amazing on the track and live on the tote, rely on the experienced runners. Zamquick is in from Gulfstream as is Town Tour. Note the former’s trainer, Eddie Kenneally, saddled the aforementioned older MSW winner opening weekend, Relentless Spirit.
We welcome back a high-class claiming route in Race 6 for the first time in a Spring Meet since 2012. We used to see 3-4 of these $30-$50k routes on the Poly each season, but there were none offered a year ago. They only averaged 6.5 starters per race, likely the reason for their exclusion from the menu. But this cast lured a big field of 11 upon its return. Fair Grounds shippers have done well here, in fact slightly better than the GP raiders. Horses moving from turf preps hold a modest 9-5-5 edge over the dirt and synthetic preppers. Derby Kitten, a stakes winner here at age 3, returns for Mike Maker, a trainer with more claiming route wins on the Kee Poly than anyone. Grip Hands dominated a claiming route here in the Fall Meet, running the 5th-fastest of 34 races at the distance/meet at any class level. Meanwhile, Stormy Going is a 2-time winner over this track, but both came sprinting, including a 6-1/2 furlong score last Spring Meet for $25,000.
Race 7 is a first-level allowance sprint on the Polytrack. Horses exiting a sprint prep hold a modest 26-18 edge over those turning back from routes. Those prepping on dirt have doubled up the competition 24-12-8 over turf and synthetic preppers. This is not a bad situation for horses coming back off extended vacations – 12 of the 44 winners were making their first starts of the calendar year, a pretty remarkable number. Perhaps Ultimate Shopper off the layoff and dirt form would be a horse some could discount here without knowing the history of these races.
The Race 9 finale is our third non-winners of 2 lifetime claimer at the 2014 Spring Meet with Tampa and Oaklawn invaders winning those events opening week (both routes). The Tampa shippers have done better than expected at this level in the past and perhaps longshot Witness the Prince might spruce up the exotics. Favorites are only 9-for-42 in all-time Spring Meet N2L claimers on the Poly. And in 6F races at this class, half of the 10 winners were 10-1 or more and favorites just 1-for-10. Simon Eyes was a MSW winner over this course in Fall 2012 and often the best maiden win on the resume is good enough to win these N2L claimers.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 8 is our first third-level allowance in a Spring Meet since 2007, but we did have a trio of them fill during the 2013 Fall Meet – one of which was won by Bull Dozer. He’s back, under the optional claiming condition of this race and offered for $80,000.
Look for horses shortening distance from a route prep. Seven of the last 9 Spring Meet allowance winners at 6-1/2 furlongs were turning back from a route previously. One of those shortening the trip is the headliner Morpheous, brother to the great Frankel. Dynamic Sky, third in the Queen’s Plate when last seen, Occasional View and Console also sport the route prep.
Both Bull Dozer and Console have a winning race over this track, and I like the route cut-back for Console to be the difference. Javier Castellano is the top front-running jockey on the Polytrack and should have Console on or near the lead even shortening the trip.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.