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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 Saturday, April 11, 2015
What to Watch for Today: A second straight mega-Saturday is on tap at Keeneland with the G1 Jenny Wiley, G3 Ben Ali, G3 Coolmore Lexington and listed Giant’s Causeway Stakes stuffing the program. Note the early first post start time of 12:35 p.m. ET today for an 11-race card that includes a Fox Sports One national telecast.
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: Sunny skies, temps in the mid to upper 60s and light breezes are in the forecast. Enjoy!
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!
Favorites are 21-for-45 at the meet through the end of Friday’s card and just 1 winner has been above 8-1 (tops 14-1 Noble Bird on April 8). So digging for the impossible has been the wrong approach. Let’s find the logical and work turn it into lucrative via the exotic wagers.
Race 1 is a mid-level $25,000 open claiming route. Historically these are strong races for FG shippers and the way FG movers are racking up wins this meet – including the only open $25k claimer held so far – that’s where we start to narrow. Dad Are We Here, Out of Patience and Whatthecatdrugin make their way from New Orleans. Tactical speed has been critical at this trip as 10 of the first 16 winners this meet at 1-1/16 miles were within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Pace-wise, that likely eliminates Dad Are We Here from that FG trio.
Maiden special weight 3-year-old routers go to bat in Race 2 at 1-1/16 miles on dirt. Of the 3 such races at the meet, 2 have been won wire-to-wire by Gulfstream shippers and all 3 have been heavily favored at 8-5 or less. Dreaming of Gold looks like a heavy favorite … with early speed … and from Gulfstream. Survey says: logical pick 4 single. Sometimes it’s best not to over-think races.
Non-winners of 2 lifetime $50,000 claimers match up in Race 3 at 1-1/16 miles. Trainer Kenny McPeek owns 3 wins in Spring Meet N2L claimers since ’07. McPeek won a similar route here last Spring with Maserati at 6/1 via Oaklawn as Jumpin Frac Flash will attempt. The Mark Casse barn already has won 3 races at the meet – all with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard – and 2 of those have been at this 1-1/16 miles route trip on dirt. The tandem looks for another with Thundergram. Neil Howard’s Fair Grounds crew has been spot on and often outrunning their odds at the meet and he and Brian Hernandez try to team for a third victory of the meet with Scout Leader. But as we noted and since the first 3 races are all 1-1/16 miles on dirt, tactical speed on top has been the way to go. Thundergram is fastest of these profile horses early on.
To the turf we go in Race 4 for an entry-level allowance at 1-1/16 miles and back at it again in Race 11 with the boys. The course condition Friday was not nearly as soft/yielding as expected and played about 3 lengths slower than par. I’d expect to be very close to firm Saturday regardless of what’s posted. As for Race 4, Radiator won here Wednesday and was dual-entered. Expect him to scratch unless trainer Bill Mott has an out of body experience based on his career history. Javier Castellano has won 2 of the 5 turf routes of meet, including Friday’s G1 Maker’s 46 Mile, and looks for another with Divine Luck. Historically at 1-1/16 miles on turf in big fields of 12, post has been a statistical non-factor; don’t sweat the draw. Only 3 of 50 such races at this trip with capacity fields has been won on the front end and the average winner has been about 5-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Think closers. Julien Leparoux’s 28 wins at this turf distance since Fall ’06 at Keeneland are 18 more than any other rider (John Velazquez, 10) and he pairs with the late-running Nominative in what could be a good fit. In the Race 11 division, Araqeel is a son of Tapit, who has had as many turf winners at Keeneland the past 2 years as any other sire.
Race 5 is the G3 $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes at 1-1/8 miles on dirt. This has been a formful race historically with the last 6 winners all 5/1 or less on the tote, including 4 favorites. Each of the last 5 winners exited a prep race at 1-1/8 miles or farther. Golden Ticket (Kenny McPeek, ’14 Frac Daddy) and Protonico (Todd Pletcher, ’11 Exhi) both represent barns that have won the Ben Ali in recent years. But it’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who’s really rocking the current stand with 5 winners already and he’s got a big shot here with Farhaan. Three of KPM’s wins this meet have been with horses away 2 months or longer, but Farhaan would represent his first with a runner making a seasonal debut. McLaughlin’s 5 wins this Spring all have been favorites and averaged 7/5 odds at that.
We get a Race 6 MSW for 3-year-olds and older at 6 furlongs to kickoff the pick six. As we mentioned yesterday, this is new territory for Keeneland to put the sophomores and elders together. In Friday’s 3&up unveiling, it was the sophomore To Be Determined who wired the field and beat her elders – but did so with a big pace advantage. So far this meet 7 races have been run at 6 furlongs and 6 of the 7 winners were on the lead or within a head after the opening half-mile. Five of the 7 exited preps at 6 furlongs or shorter and none were turning back from a route prep. Only Elmoheat, Big Red Charlie and Taketothestreets exit such short preps. Callans Candy may be an interesting play at a price as sire Candy Ride has 5 winners on the new Keeneland dirt (second-most to Harlan’s Holiday with 6).
Race 7 is the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes for the female turf sprint set. Don’t be looking for surface and big distance changes here. Each of the last 8 winners exited turf sprint preps. Power posts are 3-4-5, winning an astounding 9 of 13 turf sprints here with capacity fields of 12 since Fall 2006. Posts 1-2 have been shut out. The power posts, barring scratches, belong to Henny Jenney, Ageless and Gal About Town, though only the latter 2 exit turf sprints. In those aforementioned 13 capacity turf sprints, favorites are 1-for-13, 6 winners have been 10/1 or more and the average winner 11/1. (Note: Even if turf sprints with 11 or 12-horse fields, the 1-2 posts are winless in those 20 races and the 3-4-5 posts own 10 of 20 wins).
Race 8 is a MSW for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs. Favorites are 5-for-6 at the meet in 3YO MSWs and no winner has been over 4/1. Pedigree buffs will enjoy Playtime, a Phipps home-bred out of champion Storm Flag Flying. Going back to the dirt reinstallation last fall, shockingly only 3 of 36 races at 7 furlongs have been won by the half-mile leader. Only one-third of them were even within a length at that stage. The average winner has been more than 2-1/2 lengths back with 3 furlongs to run. About half (16 of 36) were cutting back in distance, including 12 of 36 going from 2-turn preps to 1 turn. Shaun Bridgmohan measured 6 wins at this distance alone during the 2014 Fall Meet – all on MSW performers and 3 of those first-time starters – and pilots debut runner Super Humor on Saturday.
The co-featured G1 $300,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes goes as Race 9 and matches the distaff turf ranks. Gulfstream Park turf-prepped runners own 4 of the last 5 wins in this race and 2 straight. Starstruck is the only GP prepper in this field of 7 that includes a pair of mares making their first starts of the 2015 season (Emotional Kitten and Personal Diary). That winter break and return worked for Rutherienne and Forever Together in the ’08 and ’09 renewals of the Jenny Wiley, but not since. Hard Not To Like upset last year’s Wiley at 13/1 and returned a winner at Tampa Bay Downs in January in her only start since that score 364 days ago. As mentioned in Race 4, Leparoux has been a riding maestro at this trip/course and pilots Emotional Kitten. It’s a tough race with so many quality options to turn to. Good luck and enjoy!
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
For an in-depth look at today’s G3 Coolmore Lexington, check out my full Countdown to the Crown weekly scouting report here.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.