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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 25, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Our final $200,000-guaranteed pool in the Friday late pick four, presented by TVG, will be offered on Races 7-10 on the penultimate day of the season. The stars of tomorrow will be on display today with three consecutive juvenile maiden special weight races mid-card.
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: Sunny skies and slightly warmer temperatures are expected today with the high of 50 degrees. For up-to-the-minute weather updates for Keeneland, including the track surface temperature and today’s maintenance, click: http://www.keeneland.com/racing/track-conditions.
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 offers maiden claimers a 6-furlong sprint test. You want a horse with some tactical speed here as 6 of the first 7 maiden claimers this season at 6F were won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Horses exiting sprint races are preferred as route-to-sprint is not effective at this distance and class. Horses coming off extended layoffs of 3 months or more accounted for 3 of those 7 wins at this class/distance this meet, so don’t sleep on a comebacker like Dream Softly, who is bred to like the Polytrack. Note that Infliction exits the fastest 6-furlong race of the meet for maidens, and it was fastest by a couple of lengths.
Horses moving turf-to-Polytrack have won all 4 of the open $20,000 claimers offered at this meet, keep that in mind as you look at Race 2. Only Bye Bye Bunting, Little Sheba and Millies Star make that surface change in this bulky field of 12 that’s tough to separate on paper. Interestingly, Ken McPeek has new Del Mar recruit Out of Thin Air in this race and training sharply. We’ve only seen 1 Del Mar-prepped horse ever win a claimer at Keeneland – New Believer when Wesley Ward brought him back off a long layoff in Spring 2011. Del Mar runners have had some success here, including 2 stakes winners at this very meet, but rarely do we see them at this level.
Upper-end $50,000 claimers route 1-1/16 miles in Race 3. The public has been dialed into these rich claimers this meet with 4 of 5 favorites winning races at the $40,000-$50,000 level. The king of the claiming route, Mike Maker, has a logical player here named Bustle, bred top and bottom to appreciate a Polytrack route in her first try over the surface. Claiming routes are historically a good place for a runner making a second start at the meet to improve. Forget That Gal and Rock Art are possible price horses to wake up.
Races 4 and 6 are split divisions of a 2-year-old maiden special weight sprint at 6 furlongs. Early speed is critical as the average winner this meet is about three-quarters of a length off the lead after the opening half-mile, but obviously finding that horse with limited past performances is quite a challenge. First-time starters traditionally do well in these spots and have won a pair of 6F MSWs at the meet. Trainer Al Stall has 7 wins with 2YO MSWs going 6F during Keeneland Fall Meets on Polytrack, 3 of those with first-time starters. Warrior Elite could be live in the Race 4 division. Pedigree players in Race 4 include Anna Mia and Mythic. As for the Race 6 division, Hunting Hill exits a very good race behind Souper Sky at the meet. Pedigree players here include Judy Legend, a Medaglia d’Oro-Andujar blue blood, and Katsura, another Al Stall trainee with a dynamite Poly pedigree.
Race 5 sandwiched between also is for 2-year-old maidens, but this one at 1-1/8 miles on turf. Nine of 11 maiden turf routes for the 2YOs run here since Fall 2011 have been won by horses with some experience (2 first-time starters). Seven winners exited turf preps, but don’t slough off a horse stretching out in distance as less than half (5 of 11) the winners had exited a route prep. Irish import Can’thelpbelieving looks awfully attractive for a Graham Motion barn that’s had a very good meet despite some close losses earlier in the stand.
Race 7 is a turf mile allowance and whether it’s the Keeneland Spring or Fall, these are traditionally very welcoming spots for long layoff horses to come back running big races. Coup has not raced since une12, but the aforementioned Motion barn has this one working up a storm. Horses exiting turf route preps dominate the turf route allowances at Keeneland. Horses like She’s Popular, Seanchai, Gleaning, Miss Squeal and Coup fit the profile. Jockey Alan Garcia has had a very good turf meet with 3 grass route wins and ptners with Seanchai, fresh off a layoff and one who fits the profile to boot.
Entry-level allowance runners battle in Race 8. In 21 previous Fall Meet N2L allowances at 7 furlongs, horses exiting a sprint prep own a 15-6 advantage over route preppers. Only 5 winners exited turf preps. Big Lute makes his Polytrack debut, but if he takes to it like he did dirt, the son of Midnight Lute has a world of potential. While Simon Eyes’ big win here last Fall might look good in margin, note in ranked 21st of 23 times at the meet, a slow race, indeed. By contrast, Seve’s third in the Spring 2013 meet came in by far the fastest 6 furlongs of that meet, a race at least 4 lengths faster than any other race all meet.
Mid-level $32,000 claimers round out the card in Race 10. Favorites are 5-for-5 in these races over the last 3 Fall Meets. Arlington-prepped runners have won 3 of the 5, while we saw New Believer in a “run-back” situation win at this class here in 2011 Fall. Shmooz Talker, Pending Asset and Tend all exit very good races at this meet against quality opposition in good times. This race should run through one of those strong returnees. Let the board take you to the right one.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Turf sprinters battle in Race 9, an allowance for horses who have not won a graded stakes race. It’s a high-quality group with a ton of early speed horses as you’d expect in a grass dash. We’ve had limited grass sprints this meet (only 4) due to schedule and weather, but deep closers have dominated. The average winner has been 5-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile.
Trainer Wesley Ward has coupled entry of Shrinking Violet and To My Valentine, which could prove an early-late tandem. Ward won turf sprints during Kee Fall Meets in 2009, 2010 and 2012. This race is loaded with speed with rapid Cor Cor and Brown Eyes Blue among the fleet-footed early runners.
I’ll take the Ward entry over Eddington’s Note, a horse who could default into a late move with so much speed in this event.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.