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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 Sunday, October 20, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The final Sunday card of the meeting features the $125,000 Dowager Stakes for long-distance ladies of the lawn. The 9-race program also includes the return of all-time leading Polytrack performer New Believer, trying to become the first 9-time winner ever on the surface when he battles in Race 2.
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Weather: Sunny skies with warmer temps into the mid-60s are in the 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!
For the sixth time this meeting, we kick off Race 1 with a maiden claiming route race. These have found a traditional home in the day’s opener. Favorites have lost 11 straight maiden claiming routes during Fall Meets, including all 7 this season so far. The average winner this meet has been 10-1 odds in this class/distance. Six of the 7 winners this meet have exited turf preps with that same 6 of 7 exiting preps of 7 furlongs or longer. Only Mad Princess and Pobeda can boast that in the opener today. In 53 all-time maiden claiming Fall Meet routes, only 1 winner (E Wald, Fall 2011) exited a sprint prep on dirt. Considering half this field exits a dirt sprint, including the likely favorites, maybe we’re ripe for another upset.
Presque Isle shippers won the first two $16,000 claiming sprints offered at the meet, and might be the place to start your search in Race 2. Viola, SW Ian and Indian Empire come in from PID, and Strong Resolve already raided from PID to win a $10,000 claimer this season. The sprint distance ought to suit veteran New Believer much more than the 9-furlong trip he encountered Oct. 6. He’s won 8 times in 13 starts at Keeneland, most of any horse in the Polytrack era, but has not been quite the same horse since being claimed away from Wesley Ward. His late move in the route was encouraging, though, that he still likes this footing. His 8 wins here all have come between 5-1/2 and 7 furlongs. Two of those came as “run-backs” the second time at a Keeneland meet.
Don’t over-emphasize distance when you handicap Races 3 or 5, 1-1/16 miles tests for the 2-year-old MSW set. We’ve had 5 such races between this meet and last, and all 5 winners failed to show a route prep. Four stretched out from a sprint and 1 was a first-time starter. Only 2 first-time starters have won all-time in 34 such offerings in the Poly era, so lean to experience, but it’s okay if the horse you like doesn’t have a route prep. Of course, there’s no harm if they do, fitness never hurts. It’s just not requisite for success here.
As for Race 3, Bill Mott has won 6 of those 34 2YO Poly route races, twice as many as anyone else, and sends out Apache Park, who was outrun in a key race at Churchill. The 1-2 finishers he faced in his debut included next-out Keeneland winners Poker Player and Mygalsal. Keep an eye here how Ring Weekend fares as he was third last time to Matusak, who returns in today’s Race 7 allowance. He could give us a barometer to that runner’s form for later in the card. Likely favorite Thunder Run will try to become the first Louisiana Downs shipper to win a Polytrack route at Keeneland since a little horse named Blame won the 2009 Fayette. In the Race 5 division, heavily favored Divine Energy has that sharp sprint form from New York that doesn’t equate to a real negative at this class/age/distance, as mentioned above.
Race 4 is for older maiden special weight turfers. We saw our first such race of the meet in Saturday’s finale. We generally get a few of these per season (3 in 2011, 2 in 2012). Favorites are 0-for-5 in these limited engagements and 4 of the 5 winners raced forwardly within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. All 5 had made at least 1 prior start on turf. Three of the 5 had turf preps, 2 of which came at Kentucky Downs. Bramley and Rosee is Cozee both exit races at Kentucky Downs that puts them in the hunt here. Pedigree buffs beware Summer Flirt for Bill Mott; she’s a half-sister to elite turf route mare Honey Ryder. Summer Flirt has not raced since the 2012 Spring Meet when finishing second.
On to Race 6, a turf sprint allowance. Deep closers Havelock and Queen’s Reward rallied for big scores in the two featured grass sprints of the Fall Meet, but our first allowance for turf dashers didn’t come until yesterday. In 14 past Fall Meet turf sprint allowances, only 6 had turf preps, which is surprising to me, but all 14 prepped in sprint races regardless of surface. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, we saw late-season turf sprint allowances won by horses running back second time at the meet, which could suit Joe Can Gallop or Tell All You Know. Trainer Darrin Miller’s big Keeneland turf sprinter Havelock fired a big shot off a layoff to win the Woodford Stakes, and stablemate Divine Ambition may be just as dangerous in his return to action for a barn that’s going well right now.
Race 7 is a 2-year-old route allowance. This is a strong turf-to-Polytrack angle historically, and early speed could be very dangerous with a field of 8 and the short stretch run to the 1/16 pole finish line. We saw Here’s Jonny blow away a similar field wire-to-wire opening weekend. Rope A Dope with an side draw and turf sprint prep at Kentucky Downs fits that profile and will threaten these up front for a very good 2-year-old trainer in Wayne Catalano. Matusak exits a sharp debut rally at Churchill and previous rival Ring Weekend’s performance in Race 3 today could give us a good line on this runner. Kids Rule makes that important turf-to-Polytrack surface swap in this race after rallying from the clouds in his Arlington debut. He’s bred to run all day.
We conclude the racing week with maiden claiming sprinters in Race 9. While the Arlington shippers have struggled overall this meet, they’ve held their own winning 2 of the 6 maiden claiming sprints offered and historically have been the dominant producer of MCL sprint winners during Fall Meets now that Turfway has been rescheduled from its September meeting. Gameday Spanking exits a decent try at AP for a Gennadi Dorochenko barn that posted one big upset at the meet opening weekend. Both Gameday Spanking and possible favorite Captain Cook are coming off extended layoffs since May and April, respectively. Only 4 of 98 Fall Meet MCL sprints have been won by horses coming off of those kind of layoffs. Only 4 of 41 MCL sprints at this 6-furlong distance have been won by horses with route preps.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The $125,000 Dowager Stakes tops the card in Race 8 today. At 1-1/2 miles on turf, these races can really tap on pedigree, class and preparation. Of the last 7 editions of the Dowager, 6 were won by horses who prepped on turf, and 5 of those 7 prepped at least 1-1/4 miles or longer. New York shippers took this race in 2010 and 2011 before Upperline won last year’s Dowager on 2 weeks’ rest from a start earlier in the Keeneland meet.
Trainer Roger Attfield holds the ace here with Kissable, a classy filly dropping out of New York’s Grade 1 Flower Bowl at 1-1/4 miles. Attfield has four major turf stakes wins at Keeneland in these marathon 1-1/2 miles trips in recent years.
From a pedigree standpoint, watch out for Beijoca, a two-time winner over this course in two starts, as she’s by Dynaformer, the most dynamic turf route sire on this course in recent years. Angel Terrace won the Valley View here in 2012 for Jonathan Sheppard, a trainer who won 5 marathon turf races here between 2007-’09, but surprisingly has been shut out since.
I’ll be puckering up to Kissable in the Dowager and working in Beijoca underneath.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.