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Let our experts help you handicap the day's races at Keeneland. To see the analysis provided by each handicapper, choose a handicapper name on the left, then choose a date.

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    Jeremy Plonk

    Jeremy Plonk has worked in the racing industry professionally for 23 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 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.

    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Saturday, April 8


    What to Watch for Today: It’s the biggest day of the Spring Meet as the G2 Toyota Blue Grass welcomes leading Kentucky Derby hopeful McCraken to Keeneland for the first time. That anchors an all-stakes pick five on Races 6-10 that includes the G3 Commonwealth, G3 Shakertown, G1 Madison and G1 Ashland. The pick five has a $300,000 guaranteed pool, while the pick four ending in the Blue Grass is guaranteed at $400,000. The gang’s all here – let’s get to work!


    Today’s Keeneland NOW live podcast: Join Caton Bredar and me from noon-12:30 pm ET as we preview the entire day’s action in a 30-minute daily preview at ( Miss the live premiere? Get the archive immediate thereafter with a link from @Keenelandracing on Twitter or at the live racing page at


    My Selections: You can get my top 3 picks in each race on the track simulcast feed before each race as well on the handicappers’ consensus page. Also look for final, up to the minute adjustments by following @Keenelandracing as I live Tweet throughout the card.


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    Weather: Partly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper-50s welcome a huge on-track crowd if forecasts hold.


    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 ( that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!


    Race 1 is a stakes-caliber allowance at 7 furlongs. The big question will be if Con Te Partiro and/or Bitumen can fire off long layoffs at this tough distance. Of the 15 Spring Meet races at this distance in the stakes/allowance ranks, 4 have been won by horses making their seasonal returns. One of those four successes was by trainer Eddie Kenneally (Bitumen), who did so in 2015 with November comebacker Streetheart. Hunka Burning Love was 1 of 5 offspring of Into Mischief to win at the 2016 Fall Meet, a rising local impact sire. Trainer Wesley Ward has 4 wins at 7 furlongs on the Kee dirt, all by horses turning back from 2-turn races like Star Empire bids.


    Races 2 and 3 match allowance sprinters over 6 furlongs. In the 19 allowance sprints on dirt at this trip, the average winner has been only a half-length off the lead after the first half-mile and only 1 winner closed more than 3 lengths from that juncture. Favorites are 8-for-19 with an average winner 7-2 odds and no double-digit odds winners. In Race 2, horses in this race are a combined 0-for-8 at Keeneland on dirt, so maybe a fresh face to the track suits? Toasted comes in for a Chris Landeros-Ian Wilkes tandem that teamed for an incredible 6 wins at the 2016 Fall Meet at average odds of just under 12-1. As for Race 3, note Maniacal’s 2016 Spring Meet win at this distance ranked 8th-fastest of 160 contested since the new dirt installation and was third-fastest at that meet. Only 1 of 8 allowance races at 6F on dirt during the past 2 Spring Meets was won by a horse making a seasonal comeback.


    Three-year-old maiden special weights sprint on the main track in Race 4. Only 3 of 24 Spring Meet MSWs on dirt for the 3YOs have been won by first-time starters, so lean toward experience. Gulfstream shippers have 8 wins while no other circuit has more than 3. That’s good news for Giuseppe the Great, American Sparrow and Switzerland. Trainers Mark Casse (5 wins) and Kiaran McLaughlin (3 wins) have been outstanding in these type of races. Casse has Souper Fly Over, while McLaughlin has rookie Marshall Plan, a son of sharp Kee dirt sprint sire Speightstown. You might want to get some coverage in this race for multi-race wagers.


    Race 5 is a turf mile allowance where I love to see horses making their first start of the year. In 75 Spring Meet turf miles the past decade at Keeneland, a remarkable 29 times the winner has been a horse off since the previous year. That’s the identical number of Gulfstream preppers to win, a telling number when you consider GP horses win almost 50% of all turf races as Keeneland in Spring Meets. Heaven Is Waiting, Be Counted and Escondera are worth extra evaluation to fire fresh. The latter’s trainer Roger Attfield has 6 turf mile allowance wins at Keeneland the past decade, a surprising leader of all trainers in that category.


    Race 6 is the G3 Commonwealth Stakes at 7 furlongs. Defending champion Ami’s Flatter meets the 1-2 finishers from the Fall Meet’s big sprint stakes, the G2 Phoenix, in AP Indian and Limousine Liberal. Three of the last 4 – and 6 of the last 10 – Commonwealth winners were shortening from a route to a sprint. Ami’s Flatter tries that same tactic this year in the form cycle, as does longshot Tale of S’vall. The 2016 Commonwealth score by Ami’s Flatter in 1:21.66 is the second-fastest 7 furlongs on the new Keeneland dirt. The 6-furlong Phoenix in 1:08.43 established a new dirt track record that still stands. Runhappy is the only horse to own 2 sprint stakes wins on the new Kee dirt, but that could change Saturday.


    The G3 Shakertown Stakes for turf sprinters goes as Race 7. Favorites are just 1-for-10 the past decade in the Shakertown and the average winner has been over 9-1 odds. Seven of those 10 winners were within a length of the lead after the opening half-mile, though Undrafted closed from the clouds to win a year ago. All 10 winners exited sprint preps. Do not be afraid of a long layoff as 6 of the last 10 winners were making their seasonal returns from October-November layoffs. Wesley Ward won the race last year with Undrafted and follows up now with Justin Squared. Jockey Julien Leparoux has 12 turf sprint wins at Keeneland over the past decade, most of any rider, and pairs with last year’s Transylvania winner Shakhimat. Robby Albarado is next among active jockeys with 7 and he teams with Green Mask.


    Race 8 is the Grade 1 Madison, the filly and mare counterpart to the Commonwealth at 7 furlongs on the main track. Sheer Drama won it a year ago in her first start of the year, but 8 of the 10 winners the past decade had some prep experience already on the season. Paulasilverlining is sired by Ghostzapper, whose daughter Judy the Beauty won this race in 2014. Paid Up Subscriber is by Candy Ride, the leading sire in terms of victories on the new Keeneland dirt. In fact, Paid Up Subscriber will look to follow Sheer Drama in that they both did not have a start between the Fall Meet’s G1 Spinster at 9 furlongs and their returns in the 7-furlong G1 Madison. Kathballu’s 7-furlong allowance win during the 2016 Fall Meet was second-fastest by a distaffer and only behind G2 Raven Run winner Lighstream on the clock.


    The G1 Ashland highlights the “undercard” in Race 9 at 1-1/16 miles on the dirt. This race has overflowed with upsets in the past decade with an average winner at 16-1 odds. Weep No More stunned a short field at 30-1 a year ago. Favorites are 1 for the last 10, so feel free to shop around. Posts 1-2 have had a major statistical edge going 1-1/16 miles on the new dirt, so give those runners more consideration than you might on paper. Trainer Kenny McPeek won this race in 2014 with Rosalind and tries to do it again with last year’s Alcibiades runner-up Daddy’s Lil Darling. Rosalind also was an Alcibiades runner-up the Fall prior and had a similar campaign.


    The Race 11 finale is a 1-1/8 miles turf maiden special weight. Keeneland began offering maiden turf races in 2011, and we’ve had 38 of them in Spring Meets to date. Only 4 have been won by first-time starters, while 29 of 38 not only had racing experience, but had turf racing experience. Gulfstream preppers own 22 of the 38 victories, a huge edge. Give extra love to Lido, Asticou Trail, Halo Dearie as well as also-eligbles Kupuri and/or Empressof the Nile if they draw in. Hello Dearie is out of Bit of Whimsy, winner of the 2007 G1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over this turf course. Asticou Trail is a daughter of Carriage Trail, winner of Keeneland’s G1 Spinster and G3 Doubledogdare in the Polytrack era.


    Feature Race Play, courtesy of the BUZZ Report:


    The weekly scouting report Countdown to the Crown has my full take on the G1 Blue Grass. To access it, see and click on the April 8 report date.


    Given that 3 of the last 4 Blue Grass winners exited the Tampa Bay Derby, this race could run through Tapwrit and even longshot Wild Shot, who could be a pace threat to steal it if sent to the front. Also, McCraken exits the Sam F. Davis at Tampa and fits the profile if he’s cranked for his best. At the right price, I probably will be lured into Wild Shot – but the logical players Tapwrit and McCraken should prove very difficult foes for any of these. Exacta players may find value in this trio by keying Wild Shot second.


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