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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 Friday, October 10, 2014
What to Watch for Today: A record-sized field in the $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes headlines the card as the distaff turf sprinters are in the spotlight. We’ve also got a quartet of two-year-old races on the menu. Rosie Napravnik, fresh off a riding double Thursday with two wins on her wedding anniversary, takes the call on five runners today.
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Weather: Wet conditions are anticipated with an 80 percent chance of rain and temperatures topping just over 60 degrees. Keep an eye on the track and course conditions and handicap with an eye on the weather.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to give you the inside stats. 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 2-year-old maiden claiming sprint to open the card. The first 3 maiden claiming heats at this Fall Meet all were won in front-running style, including a first-time starter and a runner who had been off since February at Oaklawn. So don’t over-emphasize the little bit of form we see on paper. Trainer Ken McPeek likely will take some action with rookie Majestic Spring on his name alone, but note McPeek’s 2-year-olds at Keeneland have shown the most success running longer. He hasn’t won a Kee 2YO race at 6 furlongs since Fall 2009 and has only 3 such local wins dating back to Fall 2006.
Starter allowance foes battle in Race 2 at 6 furlongs. Surprisingly favorites have lost 8 straight Fall Meet starter allowances at Keeneland heading into this week’s racing, and 19 of the last 22 dating back to 2010. Rusticana pulled a mild 5/1 upset in the only starter held opening weekend. Trainer Mike Maker’s 6 Fall Meet starter allowance wins since 2006 are easily best of any trainer and he has A.P. Corsair as potential rail speed here under Julien Leparoux. Highroller Dave has won 6 straight races, though trainer Tom Amoss surprisingly only has 1 Fall starter allowance win at Keeneland since ’06 (coming in 2011, Snuggs and Kisses as a 6/5 favorite).
Race 3 is a maiden claiming sprint, similar to the opener except that this one is for older horses. Early speed has been exceptional in sprints at the meet and certainly merits attention at this class level. Trainer Phil Sims is off to a super start to the meet and tries to keep it going with Smokin After Fun. Sims won Sunday’s G1 Spinster with Don’t Tell Sophia and wheeled back Wednesday to win a maiden claimer with comebacker Elemonate, who was VERY live on the toteboard. Another barn off to a fab start is Kellyn Gorder, and he’ll counter with Kilted.
Race 4 continues the early-card maiden claiming presence, this time a 2-year-old route. Of trainer Mike Maker’s Keeneland-best 61 route wins since Fall 2006 on any surface, shockingly only 2 of those came by horses stretching out from 1-turn sprints. That could make Artemus Storm a play-against. The Joan Scott barn already has one juvenile upset at the meet, 10/1 Ambidextrous Alex, and follows with another Woodbine shipper in Holy Change.
We hit the turf in Race 5 with a marathon allowance at 1-1/2 miles. Offspring of Dynaformer have excelled on the Kee lawn at this trip with 7 victories since Fall 2006 (no other sire has topped 3!). So give a pedigree look to Songoficeandfire for a Bill Mott barn that scored nicely on the lawn here on Wednesday. No trainer has come close to Graham Motion’s 8 such wins in this category during that span, and he’ll send out Weave. The average winner of these turf marathons is more than 6-1/4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile historically with only 2 of the 64 since Fall 2006 being on the lead at that juncture.
Two-year-old allowance runners sprint 6-1/2 furlongs in Race 6. Arlington invaders for Chris Block won the first pair of 2YO allowances this Fall Meet, and the AP contingent will have Larry Rivelli-trained Dom the Bomb and Mike Stidham’s Indygo Bo in this lineup. And that AP influence isn’t new at this class level – a dozen winners prepped last at Arlington have won Fall Meet N2L allowances since 2006, double the total of any other circuit. Conquest Big Luck E returns to Kentucky after summering at Del Mar, scratching from the G2 Best Bal and rebooting for a Fall run.
A capacity field of 12 has entered Race 7, a third-level turf allowance route. Favorites have won just 27% of the time in 122 full-field turf races since Fall 2006 at Keeneland with average $2 exotics payoffs of $132 in exactas, $1199 in trifectas and $11,638 in superfectas. Needless to say, this is the race of the day you want to attack from an exotics standpoint if you’re looking to make a score. Posts 10-12 are a remarkable 9-for-21 in these capacity turf route fields at this particular 1-1/8 miles distance (more wins than posts 1-6 combined). Two-thirds (14) of those 21 winners were within 3 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile.
Our fourth juvenile race of the afternoon comes in Race 8, a maiden special weight on the dirt. They’ve been popular program events with no less than 6 held opening week on the main track. Of the 3 that were sprints, all were won essentially wire-to-wire. Favorites were 4-for-6 in dirt MSWs opening week and 5 of 6 winners were 5/2 or less on the tote. Wins were spread among Saratoga (2), as well as Monmouth, Laurel, Woodbine and a lone first-time starter. Just a note: that while his name and connections may lead you to think that A. Rod Again is related to top 2014 sophomore General a Rod, there’s no pedigree correlation.
We wrap the action in Race 10 with an open $10,000 claimer. The Kentucky-based runners have won the first 2 such races at this meet and 7 of the last 9 going back to 2013 Fall Meet. Relying on those from the KY circuits chops this very contentious field in half from 12 to 6 options. Night Patrol, whose trainer Wayne Catalano won $10k claimers here during the ’09 and ’10 Fall Meets most recently, is a difficult read. He goes for a third straight win, albeit off a 14-1/2 month layoff and colossal class drop. No horse has won a Kee Fall Meet $10k claimer without a start in the existing year during the length of our database, which dates to 2006.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
A field of 14 – the first time we’ve seen this capacity in a turf sprint at Keeneland since our handicapping database began in 2006 – squares off in today’s $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes. Typically turf sprints have been restricted to 12 runners. Note that posts 1-2 and have accounted for only 3 wins in the 32 turf sprints in the database with 10 or more starters with nearly half (15) coming from posts 8 and out.
Only once in the last 8 years has the Franklin County been won on the front end, and the average winner during that time has been nearly 4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, a considerable lean to closers when you consider that means there was only 1-1/2 furlongs to run at that juncture. The last 3 winners, in fact, have closed from at least 5-1/2 lengths back at that point.
Favorites have lost 6 of the last 7 Franklin County editions, including bomb winners at 33/1, 12/1 and 30/1 in just the past 4 years. In that time, 7 of the 8 winners exited turf preps between 5 and 6 furlongs in distance. Seven different last-prep locations have produced the last 8 winners of this race.
The wide posts won’t scare me away and have been effective in these kind of races. Vuitton figures to be firing late in the right profile for this race and should offer attractive odds. Sweet Cassiopeia and Free as a Bird also will be launching late from wide draws and considered dangerous.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.