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Jeremy Plonk has worked in the racing industry professionally for 21 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, October 9, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Sizzling-hot Lady Shipman makes her Keeneland debut in the $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes when she meets last year’s 1-2 finishers Free as a Bird and Ageless. It promises to be one of the fastest turf sprints of the entire year.
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Weather: Scattered thunderstorms, including hail, are possible in the afternoon hours. The forecast calls for a 50-percent chance of the storms, so fingers crossed on an otherwise mid-70s kind of day.
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!
Race 1 opens the action with a maiden claiming sprint at 6 furlongs. There’s not much on paper to embrace here. The maiden claimers to date at the meet were won by 2 Churchill preppers, 2 Kentucky Downs preppers and 1 from Ellis Park. Gennadi Dorochenko trained one of those, 31-1 Edeline, and counters with Cape Magic in this race. Both 6 furlong MCLs at the meet were won by horses adding a bit of distance from 5-1/2 furlong preps, such as Kentucky Dancer and Brown Eyed Lady. They look the most logical in limited information here.
Race 2 is a $10,000 claiming sprint at 6-1/2 furlongs with a field of 7. Smaller field sprints, like we have in the first two races today, really play to early pace. Note at 6 or 6-1/2 furlongs on dirt at Keeneland – and with 7 or fewer starters in a race – 40 of 47 winners were within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 2 of those races were won by deep closers. You want to be forwardly placed. Of the 3 claimers this meet for $10,000 or less, 2 were won by Churchill September meet preppers.
Maiden claiming routers go 1-1/16 miles in Races 3 and 5. Only 1 MCL route has been held so far this meet, won Thursday by Kentucky Downs raider Sierra Victor at 12-1. In Race 3, Adopt a Kitten enters off a KD prep and will try to get the Ken & Sarah Ramsey colors their first win of the meet in Day 6. You don’t see the Ramseys go 5 days winless at Keeneland often. Animauxion is interesting here stretching out in distance and adding blinkers for Greg Compton after summering at Presque Isle and Churchill. This little known barn won a similar MCL route at the 2014 Fall Meet with a sprinter-to-router via PID. Kenny McPeek (Cold Dish) always deserves attention in MCL routes, but often is more potent in this situation late in the meet with a horse running back the second time (run-backs). In the Race 5 version, Sweet Savoir Faire moves turf to dirt, but by Street Sense, may like this footing. The sire has a sharp 6 winners on the new Kee dirt, including 3 maiden breakers and 3 routers. Rusty Arnold picked up his first win of the meet Thursday.
A glaring angle at the 2014 Fall Meet took place in 7-furlong allowance races where a remarkable 6 of 7 winners were horses turning back from a route to sprint (2 of those coming via Saratoga dirt routes). Keep that in mind in today’s Race 4. Annuity E shortens the trip, as does Miss Melinda and Unbridled Explosion. The latter’s trainer Ian Wilkes impressively won Thursday with a stakes-to-allowance dropper Quality Bird and makes a similar class-relief move. VCF Proud Mary makes her first start since May for trainer Eddie Kenneally. Note this barn won a ’14 Fall allowance at 7 furlongs off an April layoff with Schivarelli.
Races 6 is a juvenile sprint MSW. Churchill preppers have won 3 of the 6 MSWs for the 2YOs on dirt this meet. The team of Eddie Kenneally and Corey Lanerie already scored a 6F MSW baby race this meet with Dan the Go to Man and look to double-down with Churchill-prepped Metal Magic. Speightstown has produced some remarkable sprint performers on this new dirt surface (Rock Fall, Speightster, Barbados et al), so don’t be surprised if Spezia takes to the footing after a pair of thirds in Philadelphia. Primary Factor goes for a Bill Mott barn coming off a big 2YO stakes win Wednesday in the Jessamine with Harmonize.
Race 7 will be a unique 1-mile race on the dirt, a tune-up technically for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on October 31. The gate position will be 70 yards in front of the mile pole (run-up distance) and the 2-turn race will use the traditional finish line – not the sixteenth pole as used in 1-1/16 miles races. Given this is a field of 6 and the Dirt Mile will be capped at 12, it may not give us a great sense of what it will take to win that race in terms of position, but this is a stellar allowance field nonetheless. Churchill preppers won 5 of 12 dirt route allowances last Fall Meet and 1 of 2 so far this meeting. Agent Di Nozzo and Street Strategy come in off CD preps. As noted before, Street Sense offspring are running very well on this new dirt track, so Street Strategy and Street Spice in this race are worth extra looks. Ian Wilkes makes another stakes-to-allowance drop with Neck ‘n Neck; as noted earlier that’s been successful for him this week. Pablo Del Monte is entered back after scratching opening weekend when his race was washed off the turf. He’ll be back on the main track today by design and sire Giant’s Causeway has been sharp with dirt routers here on the new surface.
Allowance sprinters battle in Race 8. Favorites are 3-for-6 in allowance sprints at the current meet, with 2 of those winners coming off of long layoffs from spring. None of the winners rallied from more than 3 lengths back after the opening half-mile. Sire Speightstown already has an allowance sprint winner at the meet (Coastline) and could add with Spyin Feelin. Trainer Sally Schu doesn’t run many at Kee, but did pull 3 minor upsets at 7-1, 7-1 and 10-1 during the 2012 and 2013 Fall Meets. She has sharp debut winner Natural Wonder rising in class.
Race 10 is a 6-furlong sprint for elder MSW runners. Favorites are 5 for 8 in these spots during Fall Meets on dirt, including Pin Up on opening day. First-time starters have been shut out here so far, and note 5 of the winners were New York-based. Charis is the only coming in from Saratoga and may be a good fit. Sire Harlan’s Holiday has been exceptional with sprinters on the new Keeneland dirt and will be represented by That’s Why. And Miss Major is by Candy Ride, who sired 2 winners on Thursday’s card to push his lead to 9 winning offspring on the new dirt at Keeneland.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 9 is the $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes for turf sprint fillies and mares. Though just 5-1/2 furlongs in distance, this race has been a haven for deep closers. The last 5 winners all closed from 4-1/2 lengths or more behind after the opening half-mile – which means they had just 660 yards left to run!
Lady Shipman is a very deserving favorite. She’s been awesome in winning 4 straight and 8 of her last 9 starts. But favorites are just 1-for-the-last-8 in this race and her style is to fly early. Might another deep closer have the last laugh? So long as Richies Sweetheart and Ekati’s Phaeton stay in the race, Lady Shipman could have a tussle up front.
Seven of the last 8 winners of this race exited a turf sprint prep, so don’t look for surface changes and distance changes here.
I’ll look for a replay of last year’s event and take Ageless and Free as a Bird to repeat their efforts over a course they love. Box ‘em up and hope we can catch Lady Shipman late.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.