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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.
Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Saturday, October 26, 2013
What to Watch for Today: It’s the saddest day of autumn, closing day at Keeneland. But thankfully we get 10 more chances to turn frowns upside down on a card that includes the Fayette Handicap. This race has featured winners like Blame and Wise Dan, two of the sport’s brightest stars, in recent years.
Rosie Naprvanik all but iced the jockey's title with a massive, four-win Friday at Keeneland. Congrats on an historic run!
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: Mostly sunny skies with temperatures climbing to the mid-50s make up the finale’s forecast. 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 to give you the inside stats. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp) that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!
Race 1 opens the card with $10,000 claimers routing 1-1/16 miles. The $10k claimers at the meet have been evenly distributed between Churchill and Presque Isle Downs preppers, each winning 3 of the 10 offerings. Tahoe Way scored a “run-back” victory here at 19-1 on Wednesday and claiming routes often are a great place for horses making their second start of the meet based on past history. Emmy Who and Safe Word exit fair efforts at the meet. Deep closers have owned the $10k claiming routes, with the 4 races this meet won by a horse who was an average of more than 6 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
Another claiming route rears its head in Race 2, and those run-back types should be dangerous. Bill of Rights, half-brother to Travers winner Colonel John, looked awfully good here Oct. 10 in victory and steps back up the claiming ladder after being claimed by Chris Richard. Rivendell drops in class and has a win over the Polytrack and figures to be a force in his second start of the season. The race should come down to those two.
Sprinters go 7 furlongs for a $20,000 claiming tag in Race 3. Both $20k claiming sprints this meet were won by horses exiting turf route preps, Straight Town fits that profile for Wesley Ward, a rare invader from Gulfstream’s new fall meet. He owns a strong local record with a win and third in two starts. Liberty Wing ran a strange race with a big middle-move here Oct. 16 and may really appreciate the elongated sprint distance where he can make one run. Again, this looks like an either/or race with two key contenders.
Race 4 is for 2-year-old maidens at 1-1/8 miles on turf. Nine of 11 maiden turf routes for the 2YOs run here since Fall 2011 have been won by horses with some experience (2 first-time starters). Seven winners exited turf preps, but don’t slough off a horse stretching out in distance as less than half (5 of 11) the winners had exited a route prep. High Wire Kitten just missed by a nose in her debut going 1 mile at the meet, and appears to benefit from that fitness this time. Curlins Queen, Temper Too and Gina’s Kitten all would make sense on class, course and distance.
Non-winners of 2 lifetime allowance horses sprint 7 furlongs in Races 5 and 7. In 21 previous Fall Meet N2L allowances at 7 furlongs, horses exiting a sprint prep own a 15-6 advantage over route preppers. Only 5 winners exited turf preps. Young sire Street Boss has had a nice meet with 3 winners between 6 and 8 furlongs. His son Mongol Boss in Race 5 would appear well-placed here and was a sharp second in a Spring Meet maiden race in a solid time. Rapscallion’s form when 2nd at Saratoga in August looks better after the demolition we saw his rival Frac Daddy put on an allowance field here earlier in the meet. Keep an eye on Vanity Feature off the long layoff based on the trends as he’s a pure sprinter of Polytrack repute. Trainer Tom Drury won not one, but two, N2L allowance sprints during the 2012 Fall Meet. As for the Race 7 division, horses like Book Club, Street Line, Bear On The Run and Any Given Monday exit the preferred sprint prep on a non-turf surface.
Races 6 and 8 are turf mile allowances, and whether it’s the Keeneland Spring or Fall, these are traditionally very welcoming spots for long layoff horses to come back running big races. In Race 6, Enchanting Lisa, half-sister to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, makes her first start since August in what looks to be a great spot. Trainer Charlie LoPresti adds blinkers. The turf allowances this meet have shown amazing balance between various circuits feeding winners. All 5 turf mile allowances at the meet were won by horses who prepped at a mile or shorter with 3 of those extending distance a bit. If you want to beat Enchanting Lisa, perhaps the angle would be Neat Package or Party Till Dawn extending a notch off those 7-furlong grass races at Kentucky Downs. The Race 8 version offers a minor stretch-out to the classy Cozetti, whose recent races have been on dirt but ranks better on turf to this eye. Both also-eligibles, Tilden Lane and Leadem In Ken deserve serious looks if they get into the field and have that minor stretch-out profile. Ken McPeek’s barn is finishing strong and he has Bellarmine freshened a bit for this spot if he can overcome a wide post. If Rusty Arnold gets to Race 8 on closing day and needs to keep his win-a-meet record going, Exothermic sure takes on more importance, and he’s a solid horse in any situation.
The season finale in Race 10 is a maiden claiming sprint going 6 furlongs. Almost all of the 8 winners this meet at the class/distance have had carbon-copy trips about 2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. You want a good presser-stalker type, not pure speed and not a flat-out closer. First-time starters have won just 3 of 21 maiden claimers at the meet, so lean to experience. The wins have been evenly distributed with Churchill, Arlington, Kentucky Downs and Indiana Downs all producing 3 MCL victories. Presque Isle has been shut out here. Pedigree fans, we get to see Eclipse Award winner and G1 Blue Grass runner-up Hansen’s little brother, Gunderson, in this class drop, making his first start since February.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Race 9 is the Grade 2 $200,000 Fayette, run for the eighth time in the Polytrack era. While favorites are just 1-for-7 in this race during that time, note 6 of the 7 winners were 8/1 or less, so it hasn’t been bombs away. Only once has the Fayette on Poly been won on the front end and only once by a deep closer. The average winner has been 4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Six of 7 Fayette winners on Poly exited a route prep at a mile or longer.
In 2010 and 2011, it was Wise Dan and Successful Dan winning this race while making their second starts of the meet. Contenders like Willcox Inn and Winning Cause exit stakes bids at the meet and both have shown some fondness for the surface. Charlie LoPresti, who orchestrated those “run-back” Fayette wins with the Dans, tries this time with Villandry, third in allowance company here Oct. 4 after an 11-month absence. LoPresti also has Set the Sail in his Polytrack debut.
You Know I Know invades from California for John Sadler. I’m a bit disappointed that Julien Leparoux does not come back to Keeneland to ride him. Leparoux has won the Fayette three years running, and it’s not a confident sign that he doesn’t make the trip back on this gelding.
Finnegans Wake is a very consistent finisher but his damside pedigree leans a bit more toward shorter distances than the 10 and 12-furlong races he’s been in lately. The 1-1/8 miles of the Fayette should “hit him between the eyes,” as they say, and he’ll be my choice with Willcox Inn expected to make a huge late push for the money.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.