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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 Thursday, October 23, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Rusticana and Southern Blessing will try to become the Fall Meet’s first two-time winners when they return in Races 2 and 7. It’s a card chock full of split-division races where you can hone in and utilize a feel across multiple opportunities. Jockey Rosie Naprvanik scored 3 wins Wednesday to push into the lead in a 5-way race for the leading jockey at the meet and appears to mean business closing week.
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Weather: Conditions should be fast and firm for racing with mostly sunny skies and temps in the low 60s forecasted. Enjoy!
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!
Races 1, 3 and 7 are $40,000 claimers on the main track and we’ve had 6 races this meet in the $30k-$50k open claiming categories. Churchill Downs-prepped runners own 4 of those half-dozen wins and Tough Business will be the only CD invader in the Race 1 cast. While trainer Ingrid Mason has won 3 races at the meet, they’ve all been with younger, less-experienced types than Harmony Place, though the barn can’t be discounted. Can’t Use Nellie invades from Western Canada’s Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, and we haven’t had a winner from there in the history of my database dating back to Fall 2006. As for the Race 3 division, we haven’t seen a second-time starter at the meet (a “run-back” as I call them) win at this class level in the Fall since 2010. Perhaps taking a stance against Chongo, Fleet Gold Digger and Twin Engine could serve us well. That same approach could be financially rewarding in the Race 7 event where Southern Blessing could be heavily favored off a win already at the meet and may be vulnerable.
Starter allowance runners match up in Race 2 and Rusticana goes for a second win at the meet in similar conditions as a big favorite. She’s 1 of 5 Churchill-prepped runners to take the 9 starter allowance so far at the meet, and simply has found a soft field. Trainer Jeff Thornbury did have a run-back winner at the 2009 Fall Meet, and we did see Jamraa score last Fall in a similar starter allowance run-back at the meet, so there’s some precedent.
Race 4 is a 2-year-old MSW route, the kind of future star situation that always excites this time of year for the spring classics. Todd Pletcher won a pair of 2YO MSWs opening weekend and seeks a third of the meet with Eskenformoney, who returns on short rest. Todd Pletcher has just 2 Fall Meet run-back wins since 2006 at Keeneland and only 1 of the 15 juvenile MSWs of the meet has been won by a horse moving from turf to dirt, so perhaps we can beat this one from Pletcher? Regardless of distance, 14 of the 15 juvenile MSW winners at this meet have been within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile and averaged 1-1/2 lengths off the lead in the trio of routes for this age/class so far. Look for some forward pace players.
Maiden claiming sprinters go the tough 7-furlong distance in Race 5 and then 6 furlongs in Race 9. Of the 16 maiden claimers on the dirt this meet, 14 winners were 5/1 or less, so it’s not a race to reach too far on the tote. These wins have been fairly evenly distributed among circuits and surfaces of the preps. Nick Zito has popped twice in MCL races with New Yorkers and tries for the hat trick with Borseggiatore in Race 5. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has won 4 races this meet at 7 furlongs on dirt, easily most of any rider, and teams with rookie Speeding Comet. Based on the big barn influence and number of MSW types dropping in class, this should be a very key race moving forward to MCL events at Churchill and in New York and one to tab the alumni. As for the Race 9 maiden claimer, those are 2-year-olds with less to go on. Ingrid Mason as noted above has been exceptional with 3 young sprinters winning at the meet and would seem to have Riley Rocks in a very good spot. While Wesley Ward has had 5 wins at the meet through the first 3 weeks, none have come with juveniles and only 1 maiden breaker – which is rare for him – and his Florida raider Amace will be an interesting read. He brought a horse here last Fall Meet via Gulfstream named Straight Town to win who fit nicely to win at 7/2 odds.
Race 6 is a turf mile allowance and a contentious bunch. Trainer Graham Motion came into closing week with a meet-leading 4 turf wins (tied with Bill Mott) and aims for another with British import Magic of Reality. He’s already had a first-time US winner at the meet in Quadrivium. The average winner in 8 turf route allowances this meet has been 7/2 and none over 6/1 odds. The average winner has been more than 4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and only one winner (Coalport) was closer than 2 lengths behind at that stage. Kentucky Downs shippers have fared well here, winning 3 of the 8 offerings in turf route allowances, which is good news for backers of Elusive Fate. Traditionally turf mile allowances are a great place for horses coming off of long layoffs as they aren’t contested at break-neck paces nor is the distance super-demanding of endurance. Several in here come off extended breaks and ought to be considered.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 8 is the split division of the Race 6 turf allowance mile and many of the same trends apply here as well. But a horseplayer can’t live on trends alone, and I’m going off the reservation a bit in this race.
Lunar Surge intrigues at a big price moving to the turf for the first time for a sharp George Weaver barn. She closed nicely here opening weekend with zero pace help at a time when horses just weren’t closing, and nearly scored. Weaver knows he’s got a now horse and grabs this chance in the condition book even if the surface may not be on her resume sheet. The pedigree says maybe on turf and the price will be right.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.