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Jeremy Plonk has worked in the racing industry professionally for 22 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 22
What to Watch for Today: Grade 1 Cotillion and Coaching Club American Oaks winner I’m A Chatterbox makes her 4-year-old debut today in the featured Grade 3 $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes. And don’t forget: Friday’s late pick four on Races 7-10 boasts a $200,000-guaranteed pool, presented by TVG.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live podcast/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: Rain is a major part of the forecast with an 80% chance of thunderstorms. Eyeball the conditions and be flexible in your handicapping, especially multi-race wagers that extend several hours.
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!
We tee it up with maiden claiming sprinters in Race 1, and also end the card in Race 10 similarly. No circuit has shown any particular strength in these ranks as the 9 wins have been pretty evenly distributed from all comers. In the 3 races at this 6-1/2 furlong distance, 2 of the winners exited turf mile preps while cutting back in distance. But you want to be close to the pace as 5 of 6 MCL sprint races this meet have been won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile (average winner 1 length back at that juncture).
Maiden claimers also take the stage in Race 2, this time around 2 turns at 1-1/16 miles. Vickie Oliver trained a similar race winner Awesome Thought to a 21-1 upset here on Wednesday and tries to double up with Sea Light. Pedigree players don’t sleep on Explosive Vacation, who is by Harlan’s Holiday, a sire whose offspring have really run well over this Kee dirt. Six of 8 MCL routes on dirt the past 2 Spring Meets have been won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after a half-mile.
Race 3 stretches starter allowance runners out to 1-1/8 miles on the main track. Eight on 9 STR ALW races on dirt the past 2 Springs have been won by horses 5-1 or less on the tote, so don’t reach too far outside the logical. Dynabeaver returns off a second-place finish 8 days ago for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. The crafty DWL won 3 times during the 2014 Fall Meet (2 turf, 1 dirt) with horses running back on short rest the second time at the meet. The race appears to run through him and favorite Birdsone.
The starter allowance theme extends to Race 4, where we hit the turf. This is pretty new territory running starters on the grass. Thursday’s finale was such a rare bird, and it produced a whopping 55-1 upset with Free Rose. Lemon Drop Kid has been successful with 9-furlong turfers at Kee, so perhaps longshot All Aces could merit a bomber’s chance. Miss Prudence also goes for an aforementioned Vickie Oliver barn worth following right now. Trainer Chad Brown is just 1-for-17 at the meet unfathomably, so standing against Degrees of Freedom may not be a crazy idea.
Quality has shone through over the longer dirt distances. Note favorites hit 44% in Keeneland main track races at 1-1/8 miles like we have in Race 5. Neil Howard has a pair of route winners at the meet, including 9-furlong Ben Ali victor Eagle. I expect his charge He’s From Queens to be bet down off the 9-2 morning line in this spot. Joe Sharp has saddled 4 winners at 9 furlongs on the new Kee dirt (second only to Todd Pletcher’s 6) and likely puts Bellamy Run on the front here from the rail.
Race 6 matches turf maidens at 1-1/16 miles. Gulfstream preppers have won 3 of 5 offered so far this meet, and 7 of the last 10 dating back to Spring 2015. First-time starters have won just 3 of 31 such Spring Meet races dating back to 2011. War Order is by War Front, who already as sired a MSW turf winner at the meet (American Patriot). Pedigree players will appreciate Sir Dudley Diggs, sired by Keeneland turf lover Gio Ponti, as well as Manitoulin, whose champion dam Soaring Softly was 2-for-2 at Keeneland in her racing days.
Allowance sprinters clash in Race 7 at 6 furlongs. With a small field of 7 and short distance, early speed will be a premium. Gulfstream shippers hold a 5-2-2 lead in the 13 dirt allowances at the meet over Turfway and Fair Grounds invaders. Steve Asmussen saddles Ivy Bell looking for his second dirt ALW sprint win of the meet via Oaklawn. He did so with huge favorite Union Jackson last week.
Race 8 is a full-field turf sprint and we love these races for the boxcar possibilities. Favorites are just 2-for-17 in these races since Fall ’06 with capacity field sizes with an average winner over 10-1 odds and an average $2 exacta paying more than a whopping $360! Posts 3-4-5 are the ‘power posts’ and account for 9 of the 17 victories, more than twice their mathematic logic in a 12-horse field. Those power posts winners average nearly 14-1 with no favorites. Sunnysammi and Blue Medal are drawn perfectly barring scratches. Posts 1-2 are very difficult to overcome, you’d rather be outside than far inside. Fair Grounds (9) and Gulfstream (8) shippers share equal clout here over the past several Spring Meets in terms of turf sprint winners.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The Grade 3 $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes came up particularly stout this year with multiple Grade 1 winner I’m A Chatterbox and Grade 2 winner Ahh Chocolate glaring from the marquee. And while we anticipated such a high-end showdown in this year’s Ashland, lest we forget Rusty Arnold upsetting the apple cart at a huge price with Weep No More. Rusty brings the tissues again Friday with White Clover, another Tampa raider who will be fit and feisty to deal with.
I’m A Chatterbox debuted a winner here in October of 2014 going 7 furlongs, so the new Keeneland dirt won’t be a major concern. And also note this race has been a great starting off point historically for fillies returning for the first start of the year. In the last 9 years, Asi Siempre, Indescribable, Pachattack and last year’s winner Deceptive Vision all took that same seasonal return path that I’m A Chatterbox attempts.
We’re likely betting into a buzzsaw at 3-5 on the morning line, but I think White Clover will be an overlay, and that Ahh Chocolate on her best day can go toe-to-toe with I’m A Chatterbox. I’m going to use both in an attempt to upend the favorite.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.