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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 Thursday, April 16, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Trainer Wesley Ward could be sitting on a big day with entrants in races 2, 3 and 5 – especially since those races are right in his power zone. Ward’s prowess with 2-year-olds and turf sprinters will be on full display. Let's hope the weather holds and we stay on the grass!
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Weather: An 80% chance of rain and temps in the low 70s are forecasted, so keep an eye on the conditions. The turf could be soft once again. Check for updates at Keeneland.com
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!
The curtain rises with a starter allowance route in Race 1. The first 3 starter allowances of the meet including a pair of winners at 9-5 and 8-5 odds, and historically this is no classificiation to price shop. Over the last 3 Spring Meets, the 16 starter allowances to date have average winning odds of 5/2 with 15 of 16 going off 6/1 or less. Trainer Tim Glyshaw has connected on starter allowance wins at the Spring Meet in 2008, 2009 and 2014 and has Waytogo Trish in the opener. Since Fall 2006, trainer Steve Asmussen has won exactly 1 route race on the Keeneland main track, that coming in Spring 2011. Consider standing against his Cotton Club Cutie on that note.
The babies are back in Race 2 with a 4-1/2 furlong dash for the 2YOs. I know it gets boring and repetitive, but you need to see a Keeneland local workout, which almost always – including this time – eliminates half the field or more. Deep in a Dream goes for Wesley Ward as does Banree. You have to start there, though the John Hancock barn slayed the Ward dragon once this meet in a baby race and tries again with Ready by You.
Mid-level $25,000 claiming sprinters meet in Race 3. Fair Grounds runners historically do very well at this class level and have won 2 of the 4 offered at the meet so far. Cigarzin is the lone New Orleans invader here and steps up in class for Tom Amoss. Also look for horses cutting back in distance as 7 of the last 9 races at this class/distance in Spring Meets have shortened from their most recent prep. Again, that’s a plus for Cigarzin, Frat Boy and Thirtysliverpieces – the latter looks VERY similar in profile to Politicallycorrect, who won this meet already for the same connections while class dropping and shortening the trip. This looks like Amoss vs. Ward.
There have been no shortage of quality dirt route allowances like Race 4 this season. Kiaran McLaughlin won 2 of the 9 offered the first 2 weeks and tries to pile on with Strike Tone. Pedigree buffs will love Hereditary, a Medaglia d’oro colt out of Spinster heroine Pleasant Home. Both those figure strongly and will take the most money. But watch out for Peej and Mutassaawy. Both sires (Candy Ride and Tapit) have had exceptional early results on the new Keeneland dirt and both are coming in from Fair Grounds, which leads all route allowance prep circuits at the meet with 3 winners. Many good options here!
Race 5 brings together turf sprinters in allowance company. We don’t get many of these each meet as turf sprints are mostly in stakes company – usually about 2 per meeting. Only 2 of 26 turf sprint allowances since Fall 2006 have been won by horses turning back from a 2-turn prep, which 3 of these runners attempt to buck. Those 26 races have been won by 25 different barns; only Wesley Ward (Aventue Love entered here) has doubled up. When looking at Spring Meet turf allowance sprints, it’s notable that 4 of 10 winners were making their first calendar starts of the year. Posts 3-4-5 are the power posts sprinting on turf with fields of 11 or more like this, winning an astounding 10 of 20 offerings since Fall 2006 – at average win odds of more than 12/1! Barring any scratches, Toni’s Hollyday, Discreet Kiss and Zipso Facto have the power posts.
Race 6 is for 3-year-old maiden special weight sprinters at 7 furlongs. While Gulfstream horses generally have underperformed at the meet based on their lofty previous Spring standards (imagine that with dirt?), they’ve been very strong winning 5 of the first 10 MSWs for the 3-year-olds this meet – including 4 of the 6 routes. At 7 furlongs they should be comparably effective, which is good news for Rhiana’s Candy as the lone GP runner involved in this race. As mentioned prior, her sire Candy Ride has had a sharp start to the re-dirt era at Keeneland. Trainer Graham Motion sends out 2 rookies, Port Charlotte and Cap’s Vow. Motion’s last 3 debut winners at Keeneland all came off the Fair Hill training center in terms of workouts like this pair. A final note: Ben Colebrook rocked a similar race this meet at 28-1 with a Sam Houston prepper and goes that route again with Angel Haze.
Six-furlong allowance sprinters speed things up in Race 7. Look for early speed to be tough to topple with just a field of 7. In races with this field size or smaller, going 6 furlongs on the new dirt, the average winner has been just .11 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Meanwhile, 21 of 24 winners were within 1 length at that point and only 1 winner closed more than 3 lengths over the final quarter-mile. Caval could be hard to catch.
The Race 9 finale is for maiden claiming sprinters going 6 furlongs. We’ve only had 2 such races at the meet and don’t really have a feel on the trends here. Trainer Eddie Kenneally did have 4 maiden claiming sprint winners in the Spring during the Polytrack era, including a debut MCL like Proper Touch will attempt. You’ll have to play this one without the benefit of research in some old school handicapping.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
A big field of 11 has entered for today’s Race 8 turf allowance route at 1-1/16 miles. During the meet’s first 2 weeks, 8 of the 9 turf winners at this distance were horses racing 1 to 4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile – no wire jobs, only 1 deep closer. The average winner was 2-1/2 lengths back after a half-mile. While Gulfstream preppers have won 5 times in this situation, so, too, have horses making their first start of the calendar year. It’s been one or the other essentially.
Magic of Reality showed no speed in her US debut when nearly rallying with zero pace help to score during the Fall Meet. Since, she’s much more tactical ability and now a race with little early pace threats actually will work to her advantage. I’ll lean on her heavily off two solid efforts at Gulfstream Park.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.