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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 Wednesday, April 15, 2015
What to Watch for Today: The rescheduled G3 Transylvania Stakes tops a fantastic weekday card after being washed out on opening day. Not only will these top 3-year-old turfers be in action, but we also get treated to the return of last year’s G3 Lexington winner Mr. Speaker when he contests a LOADED Race 6 allowance on the 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: After another pair of rainy days to open the week, Wednesday is expected to stay dry with temps in the upper 60s. Keep an eye once again on course conditions and potential surface changes by consulting the updated changes and TV monitors as post time approaches.
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!
As is our Wednesday custom in this space over the years, we take a look back at the trends of the meet to see what we can glean moving forward. Our regular race-by-race trends report returns tomorrow. Skip ahead to the feature race section if all you’re looking for is info on today’s racing.
At the halfway mark in the stand, we’ve had 65 races at the Spring Meet with 51 on dirt and 14 on turf. Favorites are 20-for-51 on the dirt (39%) and 5-for-14 on turf (36%). The average winning odds on dirt has been 4.6-to-1 with only 3 of 51 winners at double-digit odds. The average turf winner has been 4.5-to-1 with only 1 of 14 victors at double-digit odds. As you can see, the bomb-sniffing dogs haven’t been needed, but a respectable 9/2 price on dirt and turf equally has been attainable.
Field sizes have averaged 9.7 starters per race on turf and 7.6 starters per race on dirt. On dirt, maiden special weight races easily are outpacing all other classes in terms of attendance with 8.5 starters per race.
On dirt, we’ve had 27 sprint races and the average winner has been 1.6 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. At 6 furlongs or less, that drops to just 0.4 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. Meanwhile, 21 of 27 sprint winners were within 3 lengths of the lead after the first half-mile. Only 2 of the 27 sprint winners were horses cutting back from a 2-turn prep.
On dirt, we’ve had 24 route races and the average winner has been just 1.1 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. That’s right, route speed has done even better than sprint speed! Consider 18 of 24 route winners were within 2 lengths of the lead after the first half-mile. Not a single dirt route winner has closed more than 4-1/2 lengths from that point home. Of the 24 routes on dirt, only 1 of them has been won by a horse stretching out from a sprint to a route so far.
A couple of circuit notes:
Oaklawn dirt routers are doing well with 4 winners, including 3 in the cheaper maiden claiming and claiming levels. Those horses are coming in fit off a demanding surface in Arkansas. Fair Grounds sprinters own a meet-best 7 winners with all 7 coming out of 6 furlong races in New Orleans. Of the first 14 turf races at the meet, 6 were won by horses making their first starts of the calendar year.
Some sire notes:
Giant’s Causeway has 3 dirt route winners at the meet, including Blue Grass champ Carpe Diem and Ben Ali winner Protonico. Harlan’s Holiday, top sire at the Fall Meet in the dirt return, has 2 dirt sprint wins this meet at 7 furlongs. Tapit has tripled up at the meet on dirt with devastating winners Dancing House, Tapkee and Lexington Stakes conqueror Divining Rod.
As for trainers, Chad Brown tops the turf with 3 winners (stakes champs Lady Eli and Ball Dancing among them). Mark Casse’s 3 wins all have come with Shaun Bridgmohan riding and have been juicy 14-1, 7-1 and 4-1 offerings. Mike Maker’s 3 wins all have been 8-5 or less. Kiaran McLaughlin has won 6 races (4 different riders) with 5 of them routes (5 dirt, 1 turf). Todd Pletcher’s 7 wins include 6 with either John Velazquez or Javier Castellano riding. Pletcher’s 7 include 5 routes, 3 stakes and nothing shorter than 7 furlongs on either surface.
In the saddle, Javier Castellano’s 9 wins (7 routes) are no surprise when you consider 7 were favorites and the 9 average just 8/5 odds (only horse over 5/2 was a 9/2 winner). Brian Hernandez with 5 early scores might catch your attention, including 2 for veteran Neil Howard. And Shaun Bridgmohan’s 5 winners have averaged 7/1 odds.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The featured G3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes has been a haven for Gulfstream Park-prepped horses over recent history. Five of its last 6 winners exited GP preps, and that’s a great place to start this discussion with A Lot, Night Prowler and Saham representing Gulfstream.
Horses who wintered at Payson Park training center took this race in 2007, 2009 and 2010, including Bill Mott trainees Stormalory and Marcavelly. The Hall of Famer takes a similar path with A Lot, who figures very prominent.
Luck of the Kitten had a terrible wide post draw in a bulky field of 13 that never materialized on opening day. He’s got the luck alright, this time drawing the rail in a field that whittled to 7. On paper he looks like a potential lone speed play and tough to collar. As we noted above, nearly half the turf races this meet have been won by horses away since last year, so don’t be too afraid of the Breeders’ Cup layoff.
I’m banking on A Lot to do just enough late to get by a stubborn Luck of the Kitten but certainly would use both in multi-race wagers and also consider Night Prowler in a three-deep play for pick fours, fives and sixes. The pace and field size dynamic really have changed in the favor of Luck of the Kitten, which makes last week's confidence in A Lot weaken... a little.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.