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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 Sunday, October 4, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Two major stakes punctuate Fall Stars Weekend, headlined by the tradition-rich G1 Spinster Stakes and the G3 Bourbon. While we’ve seen a trio of reigning Breeders’ Cup Champions already beaten this weekend – Work All Week, Judy the Beauty and Bobby’s Kitten – we get a fourth chance today on the heels of Untapable in the Spinster.
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: A glorious day in the mid-70s and 0% chance of rain will be a welcome sign for a beleaguered start to the meeting in terms of weather. Bring it on!
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 is a maiden claiming sprint at 6 furlongs, and perennial leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have a two-pronged entry in Flowers for Lisa and Lovely Mission. The Ramseys have won 16 Fall Meet maiden claimers at Keeneland since 2006 of the 185 offered – remarkable when you consider the next-closest owners have only 3. But both entrants turn back in distance from longer bids and its noteworthy on the new dirt last Fall none of the 9 winners at this class/distance were horses cutting back in distance from longer than 7 furlongs. Note 15 of 24 Fall Meet maiden claimers last year were won by horses at 5-2 or less odds, so don’t venture too deep into prices.
Race 2 also is for maiden claimers, but at 7 furlongs, this has been a more difficult distance for lower-end runners to hold form. Favorites are just 3-for-15 in 7F MCL races on the new dirt with an average winner of nearly 9-1 odds. Magic Five moves turf to dirt after a decent try, and note his sire Hard Spun also had a turf route-to-dirt MCL winner at 7F this past spring at 29-1 named Quiet Ry. At 7 furlongs, having a recent start has been imperative so tread lightly with Rockstar Jam, who has been away since January.
Our first $10,000 claiming route of the meet goes as Race 3 and a trio of such races last Fall Meet all produced deep-closing winners that averaged nearly 6 lengths back after the opening half-mile of action. Each had a recent September start and were all between 5-1 and 11-1 odds. Longshot trainer Joe Cheeks has 2 entrants. His 8 Keeneland wins since ‘06, 3 ridden by Jesus Castanon, have all been 7-1 or more and averaged 13-1. He has Photo Shoot and Barrymore entered. Pedigree fans will recognize Colonel John’s full-brother Bill of Rights, a winner over this course last October on a sloppy track. While sire Harlan’s Holiday has been tops here on the new dirt – 7 wins, including a juicy $20 horse for us opening day – all 7 of those have come in sprints Riseseastsetswest tries to buck that in a route.
Older turf maidens compete in Race 4, and this is a spot where Kentucky Downs (4) and Saratoga/Belmont (4) shippers dominated the 11 such races offered in past Fall Meets. Look for horses exiting a turf-route prep, producing 9 and 8 winners each of the 11. That puts Mr. Song, Malibu Preacher, Ascend, Farz and Victory Torch into the crosshairs. Pedigree players will dig on Pennmarydel, full brother to the legendary Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
Race is a starter allowance, and while those races historically were chalky in the Polytrack era, they’ve been just the opposite so far on the new dirt. Favorites went 2-for-10 last Fall in starter allowances and 4 of those winners were 5-1 or more odds. Note Churchill preppers accounted for half of the 10 winners and Indiana Downs had some success here with 2. Sire Candy Ride had yet another nice winner on the main track at Kee with Saturday’s finale and tries for another with Candy Gran, whose jockey Corey Lanerie has been the leader in long-distance dirt wins at Kee the past year.
Claimers sprint the tough 7-furlong distance in Race 6. Horses exiting 2-turn preps and turf preps have accounted for about half of the 13 such offerings. Fruit Ludt was a 1-1/16 miles winner to break his maiden here last Fall Meet, but clocked just the 25th-fastest time of the meet from 34 races at the distance. Jockey Luis Saez got the meet off to a rousing start sweeping Friday’s opening daily double and partners with Oltre Oro.
Red-hot trainer Mark Casse looks to continue his winning ways in Race 7 when he saddles maiden special weight fillies Conquest Tiz One and Sound Defence. The barn won a pair of 2YO MSWs on Friday, and had Tepin absolutely on point for the G1 First Lady on Saturday, along with allowance winner Coastline. Favorites won 5 of 6 MSWs on dirt going 6 furlongs last Fall and 5 of those 6 winners also were front-running sorts. I’d be cautious of Town Tart, whose trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn still has just 1 win on the new dirt surface and failed with several short-type prices the first 2 days of this meeting. Street Thunder goes for a Kellyn Gorder barn that won a similar race here last Fall with Barbados.
The co-featured G3 Bourbon Stakes is for 2-year-olds going long on the turf. The pattern here has been pretty clear – closers from Saratoga and Kentucky Downs exiting turf route preps. Site Read, Unbridled Daddy, and also-eligible Runaway King are the pattern players. Tequila Joe comes in from Del Mar and we saw west coast 2YO Gomo dominate Friday’s Alcibiades on the main track. Note Tequila Joe’s papa Stormy Atlantic also sired Bourbon winner Bittel Road.
Maiden claiming sprinters draw the weekend curtain in Race 10. You want some tactical speed at this class/distance as 12 of 16 MCL 6F dirt races have been won by horses within 2-1/4 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Trainer Eddie Kenneally (Miss Blossom) has 6 wins on the Keeneland dirt, 5 with favorites, 5 in sprints and 4 with Corey Lanerie aboard. Meanwhile, Chris Richard (Gadwall) won 4 dirt 6-furlong races here last Fall all with horses coming off Churchill preps in September.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The clash of Kentucky Oaks winners Untapable and Lovely Maria no doubt will be the headline of Race 9, the G1 Spinster Stakes. The latter won the G1 Ashland here in the Spring Meet with the 4th-fastest time in 29 races at the meet for 1-1/16 miles. But she’s only 3, and her trainer Larry Jones’ horses have underperformed a bit the first 2 days of the meet.
Untapable goes for a Steve Asmussen barn that also has been cold to start the season, and like we’ve mentioned here before, just has a single claiming win on his ledger through 2 full meets on the Keeneland dirt.
I’ll try to chop down both Oaks-winning resumes with daughters of Empire Maker. That’s not a bad way to go since that one sire has produced an unthinkable 4 Spinster winners in the last 6 years. Empire Maker will have daughters Mel Ling and Frivolous in Sunday’s main event. The former is trained by Todd Pletcher, winner of the ’07 and ’12 Spinster editions, and a 2-time major dirt stakes winner at Keeneland with Protonico in the Ben Ali and Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass.
Mei Ling, with Javier Castellano in town to ride, gets my upset nod in the Spinster for her first career stakes win.
The only place where you can get my full-card selections every day is in the BUZZ Report at Horseplayernow.com – subscription plans cost approximately $2 per day and bring me and my team of 9 handicappers to your service.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.