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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.
Keeneland Keys for Thursday, April 25, 2013
What to Watch for Today: A four-win Wednesday has leading rider Joel Rosario now just 2 wins shy of matching Randy Romero’s Spring Meet record of 32 scores as we hit the penultimate program of the season. It’s a fascinating card headed by the Bewitch Stakes and perhaps the most impressive visual winner of the entire meet. And pedigree buffs like me will be excited to see a daughter of Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever in the day’s opener as Perfect Forever seeks graduation day.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat 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 cold temps overnight, the Thursday forecast is a pristine 62 degrees and mostly sunny skies. Enjoy! We were off the turf Wednesday, but a good chance we’re back on today. For up-to-the-minute weather updates for Keeneland, including the track surface temperature and today’s maintenance, click: http://www.keeneland.com/racing/track-conditions.
Polycapping 101: Here we go, race-by-race, with handicapping angles to help you get a leg up. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 opens the Thursday action with older maidens (4-year-olds and up) going 1-1/16 miles. We’ve only had 13 of these MSW for this age set in route distances on Polytrack, but 8 of those last 10 offered resulted in formful results of winners 3/1 or less on the toteboard. All of the winners had recent attempts or were first time starters, meaning fitness could be an issue for long-comebackers like Shame On You, Lonesome Town, Perfect Forever and Bluegrass Ziggy. That said, Pleased as Punch and Sylvan Light could have the recent edge.
Four of the 5 maiden claiming routes this meet have been won by Gulfstream shippers (three prepped on GP turf), so keep that in mind in Race 2. Branching Out and Hard Knocking represent the GP turf set and Hard Knocking appears much more formidable on paper of that pair. The average winner in these races has been 5-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and no horses stretching out from sprint to route have won this meet. This is truly a closer’s profile race. Hard Knocking holds the key. Pedigree-wise, Bolt Action is bred to like the Polytrack even if he’s yet to try it. His running lines in New York are awfully good as Maleeh and Transparent, the two horses who beat him in the MSW ranks, both are stakes-quality competitors. We have never had a “run-back” second time at the meet win a Spring Meet maiden claiming route on the Polytrack, so I’ll stand against those we’ve already seen this season on the win end.
Look for early speed in race 3, an allowance sprint at 6 furlongs. Of the 11 allowance sprints this meet, 9 were won by horses on the lead or within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Eventual Lexington Stakes winner Winning Cause is the only deep closer to win an allowance sprint all meet. Four of those 11 winners were making their first starts of the year, a strong number for that category, so don’t hold the layoff against fleet Judy the Beauty, the morning line favorite. The Gulfstream shippers have accounted for 5 of those 11 wins – so 9 of 11 either came from GP or a long respite. The GP set here includes Judy’s stablemate Sweet and Lowdown as well as a freshened Sly Warrior. It’s notable that Joel Rosario hops off Sly Warrior for Mike Maker to ride Wesley Ward’s Judy the Beauty, a Grade 1 placed filly he’s piloted in the past. It should come down to those two unless Queen’s Award pops a freakish run like she did here last Fall. Consider her underneath the speedier types.
The meet’s next-to-last baby race goes as Race 4 on Thursday (we have 1 on closing day Friday as well). Pretty much everything you should expect from these races has played out true in the five we’ve had so far. All 5 winners had their final workout at Keeneland, something 90% iron clad statistically in the Polytrack era for this age group at the meet. Wesley Ward has won 4 of the 5 offered, and all but 1 winner was a wire-to-wire job. Once again the horses who prepped at Keeneland last out are limited, including Hadarra, Maria Maria and Beautiful Dancer. Yes, several of these raced at Keeneland in the p.m., too, but note 55 of 58 all-time baby races went to first-time starters with “run-backs” winning only once in 2007 and 2009 from Keeneland (plus a GP second-timer won once). With Ward absent, the toteboard may be friendlier in race 4, but this race should be all about Maria Maria and Beautiful Dancer based on the works and connections.
Race 5 is a starter allowance by name, but it’s not a traditional starter allowance Keeneland fans are accustomed to handicapping. This one is like in California, where it’s restricted to horses who won maiden claiming races. The statistical data here is irrelevant for race class. Trainer Joan Scott and jockey Julien Leparoux have popped for a pair of winners in the last week and team again with debut winner Electro Peg, who is bred top and bottom to like this trip and surface. Pedigrees for Fly Gal, I’m So Vain and Morioba also hint at an affinity for the footing.
Eight of the 19 turf allowances this meet have been won by horses making their first starts of the year. Race 6 will test that again as leading jockey Joel Rosario and record-setting trainer Mike Maker team with Prissy, who has been away since June. These 19 turf allowances have been won 15 times by layoff runners in the season debut or Gulfstream preppers (7). Everyone else has picked up the crumbs. Cry War Eagle, Flower Mart, Bargain Blitz and Confession all appear capable from GP. Surface changers rarely win turf allowances at Keeneland and this meet has shown 16 of the 19 winners to have prepped on turf. This looks like a good spread race in the late pick 4 and pick 5.
Race 7 is for 3-year-old maiden special weight runners at the about distance of 7 furlongs. Half of the 8 held this meet for 3YO MSWs have been won by Gulfstream shippers with 3 first-time starters and 1 layoff horse from last fall at Keeneland. In other words, there’s been no circuits feed a winner here other than Gulfstream. Horses about 2-3 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile have been the right profile for Spring Meet 7F MSWs for the 3-year-olds, both this meet and in the past. Horses prepped on dirt have won 19 of the 39 offered, twice as often as synthetic preppers and nearly four times as often as turf preppers. Only 3 of those 39 winners turned back from a 2-turn prep to win sprinting, something a handful of runners here try to do, including likely favorite Wind of Bosphorus. Keep an eye on Whitfield as trainer Michael Matz does a great job with older maidens at Keeneland and the 1-turn mile at Gulfstream would rate a good prep for this.
Race 9 wraps the card with an endurance test at 1-1/8 miles for $30,000 non-winners of 2 lifetime claimers. We’ve only had 1 such race at this distance in past Spring Meets on the Poly for the “N2L” set. When we filter just to look at routes (including 1-1/16 miles races), we have a sample of 11 races to look at and 10 of those winners exited route preps. Apollo Sky never has been around 2 turns, Gladhander exits sprints, as does Impetuous Flower. Claiming routes typically are the territory of Mike Maker and his entrant Horvat Clan ought to be well-placed, and you get stablemate Bashful Bandit for insurance. The entry here looks like a solid key in the multi-race pools to this eye.
Feature Race Play: The Grade 3 $150,000 Bewitch Stakes tops the Thursday playbill and this 1-1/2 miles turf route has been a place where bettors have solidly deciphered in recent years. Over the past 6 runnings, favorites have won 3 times and no winner has been more than 9/2 odds. Demand a 9-furlong or longer prep out of your contenders as 5 of the last 6 winners have boasted that endurance builder.
Those who saw Gathering win here April 6 left with jaws dropped. Extremely live in the multi-race wagering pools before the win tote even opened for her race, the Jonathan Sheppard trainee was smashed to 6/5 favoritism and dazzled. Left for done at the start, she swallowed the field and won off easily while in hand. She returns 19 days later in the Bewitch, and while that might sound daunting, Sheppard pulled the feat on 18 days’ rest in 2009 with Winter View in her second start at the meet.
Gathering takes the cake in the Bewitch, it’s just a matter of what price she will be with considerable hype rightfully attached. Don’t sleep on Dynarama coming out of the same race and a run-all-day pedigree.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.