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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 Saturday, April 12, 2014
What to Watch for Today: It’s the biggest day of the racing year at Keeneland – Toyota Blue Grass Stakes Day! Five graded stakes race jam the marquee, including the G1 Blue Grass and its $750,000 purse. First race post is 12:35 pm ET, a half hour earlier than usual – so don’t be late! A $300,000-guaranteed pick five matches the stakes races and a $300,000-guaranteed pick four also connects the final quartet of those stakes. Both boxcar wagers conclude with the Blue Grass.
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 cloudy morning is supposed to give way to afternoon sunshine and temps in the mid-70s. It should be an excellent day for racing.
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!
Race 1 is a 7-furlong starter allowance, but not in the traditional starter allowance sense of veteran claimers who have raced for a particular class level during a set span of time. This one is for horses who have broken their maidens at a certain level or lower, and we simply don’t have trends to work with here for the race level. Use your traditional handicapping noodle here.
Race 2 is a first-level allowance sprint on the Polytrack. Horses exiting a sprint prep hold a modest 26-19 edge over those turning back from routes. Those prepping on dirt have nearly doubled up the competition 24-13-8 over turf and synthetic preppers. This is not a bad situation for horses coming back off extended vacations – 12 of the 45 winners were making their first starts of the calendar year, a pretty remarkable number. Ultimate Shopper scratched for a similar spot Thursday for this race, and this one looks decidedly easier of the two. Good So Far goes for a Christophe Clement barn that won with sharp allowance sprinter on Thursday. I can’t see this race going beyond this pair.
Race 3 is a non-winners of 2 allowance sprint on the main track. Both such races at the 2013 Spring Meet were won by Gulfstream turf preppers turning back from route to sprint. Manaus makes that move for an Eduardo Caramori barn known to pop a sharp winner at Keeneland from time to time. Green Mask returns to the scene of his mashing Oct. 24 debut win, and we’ll see if the Clement barn continues what could be a solid run this week. Green Mask ran easily the fastest 6F of the Fall Meet by a 2-year-old MSW last autumn, nearly 4 lengths faster than any other race. The well-bred Twang should love this course as a grandson of Unbridled’s Song and from the same female family as Pulpit.
Races 4 and 6 are 3-year-old MSW routes on the main track. Note that 14 of the last 15 such races have been won by horses 5-1 or less. Gulfstream shippers hold a resounding 21-6 edge over any other circuit in these 38 past similar situations. First-time starters own just 1 win. Not a single one of the 38 winners were making their first starts of the year. In Race 4, Purrfect Ride, Twenty In One and Lady Margarita are the GP invaders. As for Race 6 division, Strong Stipulation, Stroll to Victory and Athens hail from GP preps. Trainer Bill Mott wheels Xaverian back on 7 days’ rest after disappointing as the favorite last Saturday. If that sounds wild for Mott, note he won maiden races here in 2009 and 2010 Spring Meets on 1-week turnarounds within the meet, and last year won the G1 Ashland with Emolient one a week’s rest from a GP flop.
Three-year-old MSW sprinters go 7 furlongs in Race 5. Gulfstream preppers have handled business well at this age/class with 49 winners in previous Spring Meets – compared to 24 first-time starters and 15 Fair Grounds shippers by comparison from 125 offerings. The first 4 held at this meet have seen GP runners win 3 and a single first-time starter. For Goodness Sake and Alexndeed are the Gulfstream-prepped runners in this field. Of the first-timers, Oil Strike and Sultry Cat interest me. One More Night and Rare both ran in a key race here Oct. 13 won by Myositis Dan, a return winner here at opening weekend.
Race 7 opens the all-stakes pick 5 with the G3 Commonwealth Stakes. Mike Maker sends out 3 of the entrants, and he won this race in 2012 with Lonesome Street. All 7 winners of this race in the Polytrack era have been 6-1 or less (average 4-1) – yet somehow none have been favored. Turf preppers hold an insignificant 4-3 edge on dirt preppers, whole route-prepped horses also hold that scant 4-3 edge. Laugh Track ran easily the fastest 6 ½ furlongs of the 2013 Spring Meet when appearing here last year in allowance company and then added a second in the G3 Phoenix in the Fall. Gunderson is the younger brother of Hansen, the 2012 G1 Blue Grass runner-up. His maiden claiming win here in Fall 2013 in 1:09.44 turned out to be the third-fastest of the meet for the oft-run distance – pretty remarkable for a MCL event. On the fast times train, Occasional View posted the second-fastest 7F time of the 2013 Fall Meet in his allowance win.
The Race 8 action speeds up even more with the turf sprint G3 Shakertown. Four of the last 5 winners of this race – including defending champ Havelock – were making their first starts of the calendar year. Something Extra, Havelock and Go Blue or Go Home lay claim to that form cycle in this year’s Shakertown. Something Extra fell just a nose short to Havelock in last year’s renewal, so perhaps an encore is in order. Havelock loves this course with 4 wins over it, including 2 Woodford Stakes scores in the fall and a 2011 Spring Meet allowance. Favorites are 1-for-7 in this race since 2007 and the average winner has been 8-1 odds. The rail post is just 3-for-56 in turf sprints since Fall 2006. Jockey Robby Albarado has won a pair of full-field turf sprint stakes during that span, and post No. 5 has been the most effective draw in the full-field turf sprints as well. Those 2 factors conspire to put Marchman perhaps into an interesting price play.
Race 9 is the G1 Madison Stakes at 7 furlongs on the Polytrack. Favorites have lost 6 straight Madisons, with 3 of the last 4 winners longshots at 11-1 or more. There has been no stats lean toward distance, surface or location of preps. Judy The Beauty has won all 3 starts on the Keeneland Polytrack, including a pair of Spring wins in MSW and allowance company, and then last Fall Meet’s G2 TCA Stakes over the great Groupie Doll. Her biggest threat might be fellow Ghostzapper filly Better Lucky, G1 winner of the First Lady here in the Fall Meet on turf. Better Lucky makes her first start of the year, and the only Madison winner in the 7 editions on Poly to do that off such a layoff was champion Informed Decision. Byarama returns to the Madison after finishing second a year ago by a diminishing neck – that’s the same margin Eden Prairie lost the fall’s G2 Raven Run by when second. What a race!
The G1 Jenny Wiley on turf goes as Race 10. Three of the last 4 winners of this race came off of Gulfstream turf preps, including Centre Court a year ago. She’s back to defend her title after a GP score to open 2013. Kitten’s Point, Abaco and Hard Not To Like also represent the Gulfstream gals in this year’s Jenny Wiley. Kitten’s Point was 2nd in the Jessamine at 2, 3rd in the Ashland at 3 and seeks her first Keeneland stakes score. Stephanie’s Kitten won the Alcibiades at Keeneland at age 2 on the main track and will be making her first start since July. The last Jenny Wiley winner to be making her seasonal return was champion Forever Together in 2009. European import Fitful Skies also will try to take this in her ’14 unveiling, as will Discreet Marq. You would have taken a lot of money in bets going into last Fall had you know super sire Kitten’s Joy had not sired a Keeneland turf stakes winner. But he snapped that surprising skid when his offspring won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and Jessamine 3 days apart. Kitten’s Joy is represented in the Jenny Wiley by Kitten’s Point, Stephanie’s Kitten and Emotional Kitten.
The Race 12 finale is a second-level turf allowance route. Gulfstream shippers have won 11 of 17 such races in past Spring Meets since 2007. Marine Patrol, Mills and North Star Boy are the only GP runners in this spot. Graham Motion scored a similar race here in the 2013 Spring meet with a European import making his US debut and looks to strike again with Bravodino. He’s by Dynaformer, the co-leading turf route sire on this surface in recent years along with Giant’s Causeway.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
For a full and complete write-up on the G1 Blue Grass, please see my weekly scouting report at www.Countdowntothecrown.com! We’re calling an upset, so check it out.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.