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Jeremy Plonk has worked in the racing industry professionally for 21 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, creator 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 Sunday, April 19, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Java’s War, 2013 G1 Toyota Blue Grass winner, returns to the scene of his biggest score when he headlines the allowance feature on the final Sunday of the meeting. We’ll see if trainer Roger Attfield’s move to scratch from Saturday’s Elkhorn for this spot pays immediate dividends.
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Weather: A rainy forecast is in the offing so play close attention to the updated changes as we get closer to the card on Sunday.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to help you unearth the trends. Most information is gleaned from the free Keeneland Handicapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp) that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!
Race 1 is for open $40,000 claimers going 1-1/16 miles. We’ve had 6 races this meet in the $25k-$50k claiming range in open company, and owner Ken Ramsey has taken 3 of them. He’ll look for another with favorite Kitten’s Journey. Five of those 6 winners have been 5/1 or less (3 favorites), so it has been pretty formful except one bomber.
Maiden claiming routers go 1-1/8 miles in Race 2. Not that he can’t win, but I find it surprising that trainer Mike Maker has won only 3 of the 41 maiden claiming routes in Spring Meets since 2007. It just feels like his horses are more prominent in these spots. Hard Grace will be the favorite for Maker, and maybe he’s not a shoe-in on the class drop? He probably still wins this and is the pick, but don’t take too short of a price finding out. Of the 3 maiden claiming routes this meet so far, 2 were won on the lead and the other from just 2-1/2 lengths off the lead after the first half-mile.
Starter allowance performers square off in Race 3. The Ramsey juggernaut will go favored for the 3rd straight race in all likelihood, this time with Political Justice. Fair Grounds shippers have won 2 of the 5 starter allowances at the meet. Note: Paden and Peteizum both return on 16 days’ rest from an opening day starter that was run in a total quagmire racetrack that the back half of the card was cancelled. This race had an exceptionally fast pace compared to others on the day. Starter allowances are PRIME areas where run-back horses have excelled at Keeneland. Run-backs are what I call horses running back for the second time at the meet. Starter allowances no less than SIX times in the 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14 meets were won by run-backs. That’s amazing when you consider how few races we’re talking about the last week or so of the meet that get run-back chances at this class level alone.
Open $16,000 claimers sprint 6 furlongs in Race 4. The competition is safe from the Ramsey red and white here with no entrants. There have been 9 sprint races in the new dirt era at $16,000 or less claiming and not a single winner closed from more than 2 lengths back after the first half-mile. Both winners Saturday either wired or pressed-and-pounded. Eight of those 9 winners also exited sprints, so you don’t want to be cutting back the distance. James Graham has ridden exceptionally in these 6 furlong dirt sprints and if he can keep Dark Brahms close enough early he’s got a shot.
To the grass we go in Race 5 for an entry-level turf allowance. Surprisingly, Gulfstream preppers have won only 4 of 13 turf allowances so far at the meet, while historically a 15% bigger share of Spring Meet turf allowances have been GP territory. Sire Artie Schiller already has a pair of turf allowance winners at the meet (23/1, 9/2 prices) and is represented by Conquest Artura, who comes in via Santa Anita. Trainer Kellyn Gorder quietly is becoming a turf play at Keeneland, winning 2 grass races in the Fall Meet and a $48 upset with Analog Girl earlier this week. He and Paco Lopez, who has ridden 3 turf winners at the meet, team up with Cara Marie.
Three-year-old maiden special weight sprinters dash 6 furlongs in Race 6. First-time starters historically do very well here, including Fleet Birdie at 12/1 on Saturday. They account for 12 of the 34 winners at 6F for the 3YO MSWs in Spring Meets since ’07. Street Moxie and Reverend Green represent the rookie class in this heat. Trainer Tom Proctor’s 3 wins in this class/distance are tied for the most of any trainer and he sends out Reverend Green. If the track comes up sloppy as it’s forecasted, give big consideration to Street Senses sons, Street Moxie and Allidoisdreamforyou. We saw 2 Street Sense babies win here opening day when the track was sloppy.
Race 7 is for entry-level allowance sprinters at 7 furlongs. Only 3 of the 21 winners this meet at 7F have been cutting back from a 2-turn route so that old “cut-back” angle hasn’t been fruitful as it was in the Fall Meet or in the Poly era. Not sure if that’s a statistical anomaly or something to it. Half of this field will attempt to move from 2 turns to 1, and from a handicapping perspective I actually prefer the routers here. That makes a tough call. Trainer Ben Colebrook is one of only a few trainers to win twice at 7 furlongs here since the dirt returned and one of those was a 28-1 bomb this meet. He’ll saddle Willow Hills off a 1-year-off at what should be big odds. Sire Distorted Humor used to be an ace 7-furlong sire on Polytrack, so we know the distance will suit.
The week’s racing wraps in Race 9 with a $20,000 non-winners of 2 lifetime claimer. Fair Grounds preppers have won both N2L claiming sprints at the 2015 meet, which is good news for C’Mon Cat and Ride n’ Reel in from New Orleans. Favorites are just 2-for-15 in N2L Spring Meet races sprinting 6 furlongs since 2007, so don’t be afraid to reach a bit (average winner nearly 8/1 odds). As furious as the Chris Richard barn finished the Oaklawn meeting, don’t be surprised if Devils Peak comes back running from a 1-year layoff.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
If the field stays en tact as it’s entered, the pace promises to be a strong one in the Race 8 turf allowance feature. Morning line favorite Karafa should be in close attendance to that pace and unstarted since an October victory over New York-bred stakes rivals at Belmont Park. It took him a few races into his form cycle to warm up off a similar freshening in 2014, so he seems a beatable favorite to this eye.
As mentioned earlier, Kellyn Gorder’s been sneaky good with limited turf tries and moves Bourbonize to the lawn for the first time. Pay close attention to this horse’s pre-race appearance. Almost everything Gorder has sent out that’s look liked a million bucks on the track has run a bang-up first or second regardless of price – in short, they’ve run to their looks.
I like the way the Roger Attfield trainees have been running in limited strikes this meet and his choice to point Java’s War here rings solid to me. I look for Java’s War to be a huge late threat with a fast pace to set it up. He’s the play at a healthy 8/1 morning line.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.