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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 Friday, April 10, 2015
What to Watch for Today: The Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile headlines a 10-race card that also boasts a $200,000-guaranteed late pick four pool. Those players are treated to a 12x7x7x10 sequence that offers both the field size and quality combination to construct an enticing ticket.
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: Windy conditions and an 80 percent chance of showers are on the TGIF forecast. Keep tabs on all the conditions and course changes/scratches 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!
The Friday action opens with maiden claiming routers in Race 1 and again in Race 3. Turfway shippers were not as strong here as you’d expect in the Poly era, winning 7 of 38 such MCL routes in Spring Meets since ’07 – and 5 of those 7 horses came at prices 6/1 or more. So the TP runners’ form hasn’t been overly reliable. That said, in Race 1, Tampa raider Sea Cove and Gift of Sense in from Houston could have the edge. Sire Street Sense had a pair of dirt winners last Fall and 2 on a wet track here opening day, so Gift of Sense might like the footing. As for the Race 3 division, red-hot Keeneland dirt sire Harlan’s Holiday will be represented by Aggrandizement after a pair of placings vs. tougher here last Fall Meet. Also watch Parabens for a Kenny McPeek barn whose 7 MCL route wins in Spring Meets are easily best of any trainer. Just looking at the barns involved, the Race 3 division looks like a MSW cast of big-outfit types compared to Race 1.
Keep an eye on trainers Wesley Ward (Spring Again) and Kenny McPeek (Oaks) in Race 2 when a group of non-winners of 2 lifetime claimers meet up. Those barns each own 3 wins in Spring Meet N2L claimers since ’07. McPeek won a similar route here last Spring with Maserati at 6/1 via Oaklawn as Oaks will attempt. The Conception should be the one to catch for a sneaky Murat Sancal barn that doesn’t run many here, but most have outrun their odds, including an 8/1 dirt route winner in the Fall Meet moving turf to dirt as The Conception bids to repeat that pattern.
We typically see about 5 turf maiden special weights per Spring Meet and Race 4 today is at a mile on grass for the undergraduates. A capacity field has signed on, which is no surprise: these races have averaged 11.2 starters per race since first offered in Spring ’11 (Keeneland didn’t used to card maiden turf races). The average winner in these 21 races has been 8-1 with nearly a third of the victors going off 12-1 or more. Don’t be shy. Only 2 of 21 went to first-time starters and a similar 2 of 21 winners were able to stretch out off of a traditional sprint prep. Gulfstream preppers dominate with 11 of the 21 wins (no other circuit more than 2!). Big Ben, Tapkee and also-eligible Nexrad are the only Gulfstream turf route preppers in the field. Certainly Grand Sky comes out of a live race at Del Mar in November in which Bolo and Metaboss would both go on to be stakes winners and serious graded stakes players.
Race 5 is a maiden claiming sprint at 6-1/2 furlongs. Fair Grounds class dropper Island Fever won the first such offering of the meet on opening day for Neil Howard and the barn tries to pull the same trick with Shipwreck Kelly. Don’t be afraid of a price as MCL sprints during Spring Meets have averaged a healthy $21.08 win mutuel. Sire Candy Ride had 3 dirt route winners here during the Fall Meet and a dirt route maiden breaker here Wednesday (Ahh Chocolate), so first-timer Sylvan Walk for a patient Shug McGaughey barn may need farther. Gnarly Harly is another Harlan’s Holiday expected to love this strip as we’ve seen often in the limited dirt “re-history.”
Allowance sprinters battle 6 furlongs in Race 6 and we have just a field of 6. In this field-size distance situation on dirt last Fall Meet, 9 of 11 winners scored essentially wire to wire with 8 winners 3-1 or less. We saw Whyruawesome go wire to wire on Wednesday in a similar set-up at 7 furlongs vs. 5 rivals. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has had a successful run of races in small field sizes at Keeneland (15 winners) and handles the cat-and-mouse game well if he can keep Belle Natalie in striking distance early. She might not be fast enough to win, but the right key second at decent odds behind the best speed horses in the race. James Graham’s 13 wins in small-field situations at Keeneland and the natural early foot of Table Three Ten makes her logical.
Turf allowance routers match up in Race 7. Trainer Bill Mott won Wednesday’s similar event with a sharp Euro import and looks to add another with regally bred Perfect Flute, a daughter of Pleasantly Perfect and Flute. No sire has had more success the past 2 years on Keeneland’s grass than Tapit, and he’ll have Leading Edge, Tapitry and Ayaady (also-eligble) from always-dangerous Kee turf trainers Roger Attfield, Shug McGaughey and Chad Brown. Gulfstream-prepped horses have a 73-12 edge in terms of wins over any other circuit in the Spring Meet turf allowances since ’07. A quintet of GP invaders are in this field, including the previously mentioned Perfect Flute, Tapitry and Ayaady. They’re not a bad place to start.
Race 8 is new to the scene, believe it or not, but a 3-year-olds and up maiden special weight has not been on the Keeneland Spring Meet menu since at least before ’07 and the length of our database. Typically the 3YOs are sequestered. Trainer Shug McGaughey’s 3 Spring Meet wins with MSWs 4YO and up are most of any trainer and he has Gasparilla Inn entered. First-time starters own 3 of the 14 wins for 4&up MSWs, so don’t sleep on Emperesse in her debut. He unveiled Nashindy to a nice debut win in a very similar spot here in the 2013 Spring Meet.
Bottom-level $10,000 claiming sprinters round out the card in Race 10. Turfway Park preppers won a 40% of such Spring Meet races during the Polytrack era, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out on dirt. Oaklawn shipper Harborplace won the meet’s first $10k claimer on Wednesday. Of trainer Tom Drury’s last 6 Keeneland winners, 4 have been ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr. They team up with Northern Borealis. Galloping Domino is winless since being claimed out of his Oct. 5 score over this dirt surface. His winning time was second-slowest of 35 races all meet at 6 furlongs.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile may lack Horse of the Year Wise Dan in this year’s field, but that can be a good thing from a bettor’s standpoint. Think positive. Za Approval, fourth in this heat a year ago, is among those happy not to see Wise Dan. Meanwhile, Jack Milton returns to the Keeneland turf for the first time since winning the G3 Transylvania Stakes here 2 years ago.
Here’s what the trends say about the Maker’s 46 Mile. Seven of the last 8 winners of this race have been 9-2 or less odds. Tactical speed has been outstanding with 6 of the last 8 winners within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. No winner during that span closed from more than 4-1/2 lengths back midway through the race. Three winners during that time were coming back after Breeders’ Cup Mile layoffs – Kip Deville and twice via Wise Dan.
Aripeka was second in one of the slower turf miles of the Keeneland 2014 Fall Meet (11th of 14), but seems to have progressed nicely this winter at Gulfstream Park. He’s got tactical speed and should have every chance if good enough under Julien Leparoux, whose 28 turf mile wins here since Fall 2006 are nearly triple that of any other rider. He’s the play and we’ll work in the ever-consistent Summer Front in the exotics along with Lone On Value.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.