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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 16, 2014
What to Watch for Today: What a late pick four, folks! Wow, it’s what Keeneland in the fall boasts most – two full-field strong allowance races, the G3 $100,000 Sycamore Stakes and a promising 2-year-old maiden weight race to close up shop.
Pedigree buffs note we have a rarity in that two full-brothers to Travers winner Colonel John are on the card, 5-year-old Bill of Rights in Race 3 and 3-year-old Seal Six in Race 7.
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Weather: Breezy conditions and a 60-percent chance of rain are in the forecast, which, incidentally, can go away any time now. Bring back the sun!.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race inside the numbers and trends to help you. 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 2-year-old maiden claimers. We don’t have a lot to go statistically here with only 2 starts among the entire field of 6. But one angle of intuition comes between first-time starters Outlaw Chase and Coomer. Note leading rider Corey Lanerie, who has won at an amazing percentage with Chris Richard trainees, opts to ride Coomer for Eddie Kenneally.
Race 2 also is a maiden claiming sprint at 6 furlongs, but this one for the older horses. Play toward speed where you can evaluate it as the average 6-furlong winner at the meet has been a half-length off the lead after the opening half-mile and 15 of 17 winners were within 2 lengths at that juncture. That’s even a little more forward-ranking when you look at fields of 7 or fewer at the meet (behind .38 lengths on average). Of jockey Paco Lopez’s 5 dirt wins to open the meet, all 5 were on the lead or within a length after a half-mile. He’s aboard rail speed with Torcida. Sire Tiznow already has 2 wins on the dirt at the meet among his offspring and offers up Tizsotiznot in this spot. Perhaps a stand-against play would be Bluegrass Gin as trainer Bret Calhoun surprisingly has only broken 2 maidens at Keeneland since Fall 2006, and none since Fall 2010.
Claiming routers at the $16,000 level go 1-1/16 miles in Race 3. Horses prepped at Churchill Downs (6) or Kentucky Downs (3) have accounted for 9 of the first 14 claiming wins at the Fall Meet. That bodes very well for Bold Shot and Double Rah Rah from KD and CD, respectively. Bill of Rights offer another shot for sire Tiznow, whose off to a good Kee dirt start.
Race 4 is another claiming route, this one a non-winners of 2 lifetime event at the $30,000 level. Again, the Churchill and Kentucky Downs runners should be respected. In a trio of N2Ls offered so far at the stand, Churchill preppers have won 2. Devilish Reason is the only CD-prepped runner in the lineup. Every trainer in this race is looking for his or her first win at the meet.
Starter allowance foes battle in Race 5 at 1-1/8 miles on the dirt. Again, CD preppers have been strong at this class level winning 3 of the 5 offerings at the meet. Gallant Eagle, Transylvania Flash and Reason to be Proud exit Churchill tune-ups. Mike Maker’s 6 Fall Meet starter allowance wins since 2006 easily are best among all trainers (only 2 others even have 2 wins) and he’ll have Reason to be Proud in a prime spot today.
Race 6 is a second-level allowance on the turf, but a stakes race in comparable quality. Kentucky Downs preppers have won 3 of the first 8 turf allowances at the meeting at playable prices of 7-2, 4-1 and 6-1. Unfortunately, half this field exits a KD prep. Amazingly 7 of the 19 turf races to open the meet were won by offspring of Dynaformer (4) or Kitten’s Joy (3). You’ll notice Buck Benny in this race is by Dynaformer, and Puppy Manners/Believe In Kitten are both by Kitten’s Joy. Then there’s Fear the Kitten, whose by Kitten’s Joy out of a Dynaformer mare. Trainers Mike Maker, Wesley Ward and Graham Motion each already have won 2 grass races in the opening 2 weeks and have live shots in this one.
Race 7 is a first-level allowance on the dirt at 1-1/16 miles. This has been one of the few situations where a majority of the winners has had a work over the track prior (6 of 11 worked last at Keeneland). Seal Six, Shaun’s Blessing, Rankhasprivileges and Rich ‘n’ Tuck are the only local drillers among this field of 12. Ulanbator is an interesting allowance dropper out of the G1 Travers, but note trainer Ian Wilkes did the same thing with 3-year-old stablemate Viva Majorca earlier in the meet at short odds only to run a disappointing third at 4/5. Trainer Graham Motion sends out first-time US runner Quadriviam in his dirt debut via Ireland. Motion did win with a pair of Euro imports in allowances during the ’12 Keeneland Fall Meet, but both were on turf.
Race 9 is a 2-year-old maidens special weight dirt sprint. New York preppers (5 Saratoga, 1 Belmont) won 6 of the first 13 juveniles MSWs offered at the meet, but this heat is sans NYRA flavor. Neither CD or KD has produced a 2YO MSW through the first 2 weeks, so perhaps this race is one to look at a first-time starter? Each of the 6 MSWs for 2YOs sprinting this meet has been won essentially wire to wire or by a pace dueler. When in doubt, expect speed from Wesley Ward trainees and Pow Wow Pal figures to be prominent throughout unless there’s a rookie who comes out firing.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 8 is the G3 $100,000 Sycamore Stakes for turf routers at 1-1/2 miles. While the race has twice been washed off the turf in the past three seasons, note that when it does go on the grass, that deep closers have fared pretty well. And I mean deep closers.
The last 4 Sycamore winners on turf raced 11, 20, 20 and 19-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile of the race. That’s parking lot material there, folks.
When Unitarian won April’s G2 Elkhorn, the Spring Meet equivalent of the Sycamore, he did so from 12th to first and made up double-digit lengths. That’s the kind of profile that wins this race and stablemate Red Rifle is going to insure a hearty early pace for this distance. Todd Pletcher has a slick early/late combination here to be sure, uncoupled in the wagering.
Tricky Hat was third in this race last year, beaten a length and will try to give rising New York pilot Jose Ortiz, Jr. his first Keeneland win with his only mount on the card for Hall of Famer and Shug McGaughey.
Layoff or not, here we come. Unitarian from deep in the pack to mow them down will be my pick.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.