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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 Friday, April 17, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Last year’s Kentucky Oaks runner-up My Miss Sophia makes her Keeneland debut and 2015 return in the G3 $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes. Meanwhile, maidens exiting runner-up finishes behind the eventual Florida Derby and Wood Memorial winners will show off the depth of the 3-year-old division in the finale.
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: After a fast track and soft turf on Thursday, a chance of more overnight rain has been in the Lexington forecast. A 40% chance of rain is set for Friday and temps will be in the upper 70s. Keep an eye on the conditions.
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 a field of 5 going 6 furlongs in claiming company. Of the 16 short-field races (6 or fewer) at this distance since the installation of dirt, 13 have been won by horses racing on the lead or within a head of the lead after the opening half-mile. Interestingly, jockey Corey Lanerie has worked out 3 winning trips in this situation (none were favorites) and no other rider has more than 1. In what looks to be a speed-laden field, Lanerie partners with Gambler’s Ghost and may tilt the decision. Sire Candy Ride (Candip) is off to a fast start on the Keeneland dirt with 5 winners, and we’ve seen trainer Calhoun win a similar race to this in the 2014 Spring Meet. This is a very tricky race to handicap.
Race 2 is a similar situation with a field of 6 sprinting 6 furlongs, so again front-end speed should be prominent. If you like the Lanerie angle, then Jrock would be the play over Tax Deduction as they look like the principal speed horses and the best runners on paper anyway. Tax Deduction should handle the surface as the Tapits are doing just fine with 5 Kee dirt wins in the new era. This appears an either/or race to open the pick 4.
While Race 3 is a starter allowance by definition, it’s not a traditional starter in the sense that it’s for veteran claimers who’ve dropped in at a certain level in the past. It’s a starter for horses who broke their maidens at cheaper levels ($20,000 or less). We haven’t seen much of this activity at Keeneland. Trainer Brendan Walsh’s 4 wins combined during 2014 Spring & Fall Meets (2 each) all were ridden by Corey Lanerie and they team with Miss Hunny. Trainer Phil Sims’ runners long have had a 7-furlong penchant at Keeneland as a remarkable 13 of his 28 main track winners here since Fall 2007 came at 7 furlongs. And of those 13 winners at 7F, 10 were horses who were adding a bit of distance since their last race, just as Jazz Apple will attempt.
Route $16,000 claimers go 1-1/16 miles in Race 4. While Fair Grounds shippers have won 5 of the first 12 claiming races offered at the meet, note they’ve accounted for just 1 of the 5 routes. All 5 route claiming winners at the meet have exited 2-turn route preps. While 4 of the 5 such winners were forwardly placed within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile, this race would seem to set up for heavily favored Contestant to give the Ramsey machine its third claiming win of the stand.
Race 5 brings together turf sprinters in allowance company. We don’t get many of these each meet as turf sprints are mostly in stakes company – usually about 2 per meeting – and we had a race on Thursday to compare. When looking at Spring Meet turf allowance sprints, it’s notable that 4 of 10 winners were making their first calendar starts of the year. That’s a good thing for backers of Stormy Rocit, who was third in a dynamite race here to stakes-type Zee Bros in the Fall Meet. Field size is critical to the race shape/flow in turf sprints. With 7 or fewer runners, note 10 of 13 winners here since Fall 2006 were within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile (average just 1 length behind at that stage). Compare that to all turf sprints of any field where the average winner is nearly 3 lengths back after a half-mile. In a short field turf sprint, the far outside post is a good place to be as 3 of the 8 races with 7-horse fields were won from post 7. If Great Minds move into contention on the turn, he’ll be tough.
Races 6 and 10 are for 3-year-old maiden special weight sprinters at 7 furlongs. While Gulfstream horses generally have underperformed at the meet based on their lofty previous Spring standards (imagine that with dirt?), they’ve been very strong winning 5 of the first 10 MSWs for the 3-year-olds this meet and Sir Alfred in Race 6 is the lone GP rep and looks 2/5 on paper to be honest. Pletcher already has won 3YO MSWs at the meet with Tapkee and Money Changer. Sir Alfred was second last time out to next-out G3 Lexington runner-up Donworth, who ran very well here on Saturday vs. tougher. If looking for a longshot underneath, consider Alabama Slim. His sire Flatter surprisingly has 4 wins on the new dirt – including the Raven Run and Commonwealth States. And, Alabama Slim trainer Rusty Arnold has won 3YO MSWs at this Kee Spring Meet in 2008, ’09, ’10, ’13 and ’14. As for the Race 10 division, GP shippers here include Papa Bravo and Stars Ride and the Rusty Arnold alert goes to first-timer Christopher K. But all eyes in Race 10 will be on the million-dollar brother to Tapit named Aldrin, last seen second to eventual Wood Memorial winner Frosted at Aqueduct in November.
Race 7 is a non-winners of 2 allowance at 6 furlongs and we saw 10 such races at the class/distance between 2010-’14 in the Spring Meet. Speed dominated with 8 of 10 won by horses within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. While the FG runners this meet have done much better than expected, these N2L allowances historically have not been kind to them. They’ve also not been a particularly good spot for horses coming back off the shelf and making their first starts of the year. If you want a better line on Harvey, who will get bet in this race, be sure to tab the results of his March 21 pursuer Scamp when that horse returns in the preceding Race 6 MSW.
Race 8 is a turf allowance route at 1-1/16 miles. Despite an average field size of 9.8 per race, the first 9 turf allowance routers this season all were won by horses 6-1 or less on the tote. Gulfstream preppers own 4 of the 9 wins and 6 of the 9 winners were within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 1 closed from deeper than 4 lengths back at that juncture. We’ve had a pair of first-time Euro imports win on the grass this meet (Radiator, Quinta Verde) and with the soft turf conditions prevalent at the meet it’s prudent to follow Cocaiuva and also-eligible Verdura if she draws into the field. The latter is trained by Chad Brown, who has 4 turf wins at the meet to lead all conditioners. He also has Danza Cavallo in the main body of the field, a second-time import who would fit the pattern nicely.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Friday’s featured G3 $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes welcomes a field of nine, which goes reverse to what we’ve seen at many levels this meet in terms of field size. In the 8-year Polytrack era, only twice did the Doubledogdare reach this field size and it averaged 7.3 starters. When you consider we have the G1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up My Miss Sophia in the lineup, salute the stakes coordinator for rustling up this field.
Three times in the last 8 years, the Doubledogdare winner was making her first start of the calendar year, so it’s an achievable assignment for My Miss Sophia. Her trainer Bill Mott pulled off the exact scenario in the 2009 edition of this race with November comebacker Indescribable.
If looking to shop for an alternative or the exotics, Handmade interests for a Neil Howard barn that’s been on-point with its strikes this meet. She’s by Candy Ride, whose 5 dirt wins at Keeneland since last Fall are among the tops and 3 of those came in dirt routes at this 1-1/16 miles trip. Also keep an eye on Lunar Surge, back on 13 days rest after running opening Saturday of the meet. She got caught behind a pace that was terribly slow that day and ran her second good race over this course and distance.
Give me My Miss Sophia in exactas over Handmade and Lunar Surge.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.