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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 Saturday, April 19, 2014
What to Watch for Today: A super stakes trio of the Giant’s Causeway, Ben Ali and Lexington highlight the final Saturday card of the season. Note next week’s closing week of racing rounds out on a Wednesday through Friday schedule. If you like pedigrees and famous siblings, what a lineup we have for you!
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Weather: Mostly sunny skies and a gorgeous 71-degree day is forecasted. A solid 15 mph breeze is in the forecast, so pay attention to the flags. Flags to the left favor early speed horses as everyone resents running into the wind when they turn into the stretch.
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 figures to get the day off to a formful start if history repeats. In 13 previous maiden sprints for the 4-year-olds and older crowd on Polytrack, the average winner has been just 7-2 odds and only 1 winner was more than 6-1 on the tote. Early speed is extremely effective at this class-distance with the average winner just a neck off the lead after the opening half-mile and no closers winning from more than 3-1/2 lengths back at that juncture. Only 2 of 13 turned back from a route to a sprint, so emphasize sprint speed. If that’s the case, Dr. Hal could be interested with inside speed, while I expect Iamdonewithmylawyer to show more early foot than in his last.
Race 2 is a similar MSW for the older set, but a route test. Favorites also have been very solid here with wins in 6 of 14 past Spring Meet offerings (11 of 14 were 5-1 or less). Gulfstream shippers account for 7 of those wins (no other circuit more than 2). Route-prepped horses won 13 of 14 with a lone first-time starter as well. Princess Mariah, Ambitious, Secret Jewel, First Romance, Bitty Kitty and Magnolia Lane all are GP options. Magnolia Lane is out of Spinster winner Carriage Trail.
Pedigree fans should enjoy Race 3 as well with Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed’s little bro Only In America making his Keeneland debut. This 9-furlong, second-level allowance lured Bellarmine, who scratched on Thursday for this spot. Early speed has been effective winning 5 of the 6 Poly route allowances at the meeting, including 4 in near wire-to-wire fashion. No one has won more Spring Meet Poly route allowances than Graham Motion’s 6 and he’ll look for lucky 7 with Holiday Star off of an 11-month layoff. Turf-prepped horses own a 40-19-13 edge over dirt and synthetic preppers in this situation.
Race 4 is a starter allowance and we’ve seen several times this season and in past meets where a horse with a big class edge similar towers over the competition. Expecting Cash was just that in an easy win for $7500 starter earlier in the meet and he wheels back for $20,000 starter allowance with no less class advantage. It appears a trustworthy single in the early pick four to this eye. If you want to make an argument, why not try Stephen A (some of you will get that joke).
Turf route allowance foes clash in Race 5, where Gulfstream shippers have won 7 of the first 11 offered at the meet (3 Woodbine layoff horses from fall, 1 Fair Grounds). Abbey Street is the only direct line from GP in this race, but “run-backs” Canny nanny and Ardingly come out of the same local April 5 race after competing at GP this winter. The Motion and Casse barns have been outstanding at the meet. For more pedigree buffs: Wise Dan’s little sister Enchanting Lisa competes in this spot, the third sibling of that power family to run at Keeneland in the past week.
Three-year-old MSW sprinters go 7 furlongs in Race 6. Favorites are 1-for-the-last-16 such Spring Meet offerings, so don’t be afraid to take a little stand. The average winner is 6-1 during that span, so a nice middling price often is reachable, and with a 12-horse field that spells that this could be a huge exotics race. Vulnerable favorite, not a boxcar winner, but a deep field – my kind of race! On this pedigree buff kind of card, Colonel John’s little brother Seal Six makes an appearance; he was third in a pretty key race here in the Fall Meet. First-time starters have won 8 of 43 races in this situation, not a bad number, but certainly the lean goes to experience. Dirt-preppers own a strong 20-9-6 edge over synthetic and turf preppers at this age-class-distance.
Race 7 is the Giant’s Causeway and the first of 3 straight stakes on the program. This has been a rather formful event of late with 5 of the last 7 winners going off 3-1 or less. Each of the last 7 winners exited turf sprint preps, so it’s not a race for changing up your gameplan. Fair Grounds shippers have done well here with 3 wins in the last 6 editions. Point to the Wild and Saturday NthePark will try to keep the New Orleans mojo going. But they’ll have to upend defending champion Sweet Cassiopeia to do so. The field also includes last fall’s Franklin County Stakes winner Queen’s Award. I’ll try to advance with the proven course stakes winners and the FG shippers.
The Race 8 Ben Ali Stakes might as well be the Keeneland all-star game. Mix in 2 winners of the Fayette, a Lexington winner and a Breeders Futurity champ and you get a whale of a horserace. The Ben Ali has been won wire-to-wire 5 years in a row and in front-running style in 6 of 7 editions on Polytrack. Favorites have bested the field each of the last 4 years. If that front-running, well-backed theme continues the horse to beat may be Red Rifle. Trainer Todd Pletcher won this race wire-to-wire with Exhi 3 years ago and Red Rifle has shown good speed of late and in his local allowance win here last spring. No one rides the front any better on Polytrack than Javier Castellano, so Joha might be a candidate to really wake up back on his favorite surface. On the front end, they appear to be the best of the speed and both are winners locally.
Race 10 is a maiden claiming route on the main track. Favorites are 3-for-4 at the meet in such races. We’ve only ever had 1 MCL route won by a “run-back” horse second time at a spring meet, so Wonderful Miss Bea will be solidly bet and bucking some of that history. Only 2 of 34 have been won by first-time starters. Leading Poly route sire Giant’s Causeway is represented here by Giant Diamond on a class drop for a Ben Colebrook barn that’s been clicking this meet.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
For a complete look at the Race 9 Lexington Stakes, see my weekly April 18 scouting report at www.countdowntothecrown.com.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.