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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, October 12, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Keeneland’s royal Saturday of the Fall Meeting has arrived with the running of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. It’s a race with historical intrigue equaled only by its handicapping challenge. I can’t wait for this one! It should be a raucous Keeneland crown with the University of Kentucky playing a night game against two-time defending champion Alabama after the races.
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Weather: Sunny skies with high temps nearing 80 degrees are in the gorgeous forecast. 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 marks the fourth straight card we open with a maiden claiming route this week, and it’s been pretty evident early in this season that the Kentucky runners are the ones to beat with Churchill and Ellis Park shippers handling their business at this level. Route preps still clearly are preferred statistically by a 3-to-1 edge all-time in Fall Meets. It’s interesting in this race that Broadway Missile and Keeneland Kitten exit the same race that was won by eventual G3 Bourbon Stakes winner Poker Player, and one in which runner-up Mygalsal exited to win a 2YO MSW here on Wednesday. Both those runners ran at Ellis prior to KD forays, so the Ellis-to-Keeneland express at this level early in the meet seems applicable.
Don’t be afraid of a horse near the early lead in Race 2, a $16,000 claimer going 1-1/8 miles. We get 1-2 of these races at this class level and distance each Fall, and the 6 offered since 2009 all have been won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the first half-mile. The average winner has been just 1-1/4 lengths off the lead at that juncture. All 6 winners exited a mile prep or longer. Mike Maker trained the winner of the such event last Fall (Southern Joy) and tries to repeat with recent claim Town Flirt. The Saratoga claiming spree by owner Ken Ramsey has been hit-and-miss at Keeneland early in the meet with many of the new recruits to his barn not possessing the same pedigree and home-bred magic that has become his stable’s Keeneland hallmark. Town Flirt figures to be well off the pace based on past races. Of those who can contend early, beware Jamraa, a Presque Isle shipper from a circuit doing super-well at this claiming level this meet, and Bonita Muneca, who has some proven form over this surface and always seems to be around the mix.
Two-year-old maiden special weight sprinters dash 6 furlongs in Races 3 and 6. Speed has been critical in these races historically as 11 of the last 12 winners at this class/age/distance were within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile and average just 1-1/4 lengths behind at that point. First-time starters own 50% of the 32 such races held during Fall Meets in the Polytrack era, so beware the rookies. Among the debut artists in Race 3 is Julie’s Jewelry, by leading all-time Kee Poly sprint sire Distorted Humor. Miss Arrangement has a tough rail post assignment in the career debut and must break quickly to avoid traffic, but appears talented. Whomping Willow has an experience edge and working well for a Romans barn that’s doing well now and figures prominently as a granddaughter of Smart Strike. Favorites are 17 for 32 in these races, more than 50% all-time on the surface, so the public usually has it tied on right; follow the money. As for the Race 7 division, Boom Boom Vroom exits a dueling debut against eventual G1 Spinaway Stakes winner Sweet Reason and would be capable of improvement. This is a stellar cast of first-time starters in terms of pedigrees and potential. Rumba and Kala Ryan might be the rookies to separate based on pedigrees, works and connections more apt to strike at first asking.
The top claiming level at Keeneland is $50,000 and that’s where the runners in Race 4 have ascended to as they sprint 6 furlongs. There was a single $75,000 claimer in 2007 at the track, but since then $50k has been the max rung on the claiming ladder. Presque Isle shippers have done well at this level in the past, which is very surprising since we didn’t have any $50k claimers in 2012 or yet this season. The PID successes in 2007 and 2008 when that circuit had barely developed a Keeneland influence. Pair that with the rise of PID in the past year or so in Kee Fall Meets and there’s reason to think Sasueno can be competitive on what looks like a major class rise. The first 9 six-furlong races offered this meet all went to horses exiting one-turn races with horses prominent in the early running most successful. Tend is a 2-time winner at Keeneland, taking allowance sprints at 6.5 and 7 furlongs in 2008 and 2010. Mish Mosh was second in a $30,000 claimer here in 2010 but clearly is a dangerous animal upon his return on the front end. East coast trainer Mike Pino, one of the best turf sprint conditioners in the country, has shipped to Kee to win races in the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Fall Meets and his charge Sky Above merits much consideration. Trainer Bret Calhoun already has 2 classy sprint wins at the meet, including Doc Almon on Thursday, and sends out the capable Great Element. This is a great race where you want to spread your options.
Race 5 is for older maiden special weight sprinters at 6-1/2 furlongs. Note an interesting take here as trainer Kellyn Gorder already has won with a first-time starter in this category at the meet, but currently is serving a suspension for a medication infraction and Sally Schu is now the trainer of record with Mister Gable. Schu posted a 7/1 maiden victory in Gorder’s recent absence on Wednesday. Ken McPeek has been very effective with older MSW in past fall meet’s but none of his victories have come with first-time starters like Ebulition. I do find it interesting that McPeek reaches for Alan Garcia, a jockey that he teamed with to dominate Keeneland during the 2011 Spring Meet. Horses shortening back from route to sprint have won only 4 of 19 such sprints at this distance or shorter on the Poly for older MSWs, so among those that have competed, lean to the sprint-prepped horses. Charismatic Pulpit is bred to like this surface and if he can run back to his second to the super-fast Purple Egg last summer at Monmouth, he could be dangerous off a long layoff. Layoff horses have done well at this age/class/distance in the past.
Our first 1-1/2 miles turf marathon of the Fall Meet arrives in Race 6. Graham Motion (Thorin) has 6 wins over this course/distance Since Fall 2006, most of any trainer, while Jonathan Sheppard (Cape Savannah) counters with 5, tied for second-most. Dynaformer, sire of Formidable Heart (and impossible longshot Coming Thru) has sired 6 wins at 12F on turf at Keeneland during that time, far and away more than any other sire. And with a good run over this course in April in a difficult debut distance, Formidable Heart appears to have an affinity for the surface. About 70% of Fall Meet winners at this course/distance prepped at a turf distance of 9 furlongs or longer last time out, so lean to those with a long-winded prep. The average winner rallies from 7 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, making patience a virtue.
Two-year-old allowance sprinters go at it in Race 8. I really like the Saratoga shippers in these kind of spots and debut winner Cynical Storm is a daughter of Sky Mesa whose breeding suggests she can make this transition. But it would be remiss to not mention the profound new impact that the Churchill Downs new September meet has had on the 2YO racing at Keeneland. The CD runners Angie’s Prim Lady and Milam will make a lot of noise in this spot. While Beautiful Dancer did debut a winner over this course in April, consider it was the slowest baby dash of the meet and the fifth-slowest ever on the Polytrack for the dash distance, so it wasn’t much of a race.
Maiden claiming sprinters wrap the card in Race 10 and a good run by Ellis Park horses at this level could continue with Vice Dancer. He was fourth a key race here in the Spring that saw the second and third-place finishers win their next starts. Trainer Paul McGee doesn’t run many on the Polytrack at Keeneland, but those that do typically fit well and are well-meant. Cue D. Dee figures to factor off a series of solid tries at various venues on various footings. Sire Artie Schiller’s big meet has included a couple of stakes wins with 2YOs on the Polytrack, and his daughter Artful Lady looks to keep that run going while shortening way back in distance.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup boasts some interesting history among a field of nine 3-year-old fillies battling for the $400,000 purse. Caroline Thomas is a daughter 2007 QE2 champion Bit Of Whimsy, who also raced for owner-breeder Joyce Young and trainer Barclay Tagg. Generation next, if you will, won the G2 Lake Placid at Saratoga this summer, and will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik.
Another bit of repeat history is on the line as the Coolmore team returns Say to the races just seven days after failing against elders in the Grade 1 First Lady. If that sounds a bit much, consider just two years ago, trainer Aidan O’Brien turned the exact same track with a filly named Together. She went off at the same odds in the second attempt (9/2) and scored over a stellar field. Granted, Together ran a better second in the First Lady than Say did here when sixth, but she did make a good middle-move and adds blinkers. The daughter of Galileo out of the great Riskaverse, certainly will like 9 furlongs better than the mile last week.
The trends don’t add up to a pattern in the QE2 as the winners in recent years have come from all corners and all runnings styles. This truly is a handicapping exercise in traditional Xs and Os.
Say and Emotional Kitten are the only two fillies to have run over this sand-based turf course at Keeneland. The latter’s second this summer to Emolient in the American Oaks looked even better after that one came back to win the G1 Spinster here last Sunday. French G1-placed filly Alterite was much the best first off the plane winning the G1 Garden City in New York. I’m Already Sexy has turned into a buzzsaw in Chicago this summer. And Kitten’s Dumplings won 3 straight stakes earlier this year and boasts Kitten’s Joy/Ramsey/Maker/Leparoux and could go off a bit of a price.
It’s a great betting race but I’m going to lean to the G1-placed Irish filly Say to wheel back and improve off her First Lady flop to be the first lady across the line in the QE2.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.