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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 11, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The female turf sprinters take center stage in the $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes, where defending champion Madame Giri aims to extend her current winning streak to three.
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Weather: Another nice day is on tap with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70s. 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 opens the action in maiden claiming route company, a spot where horses with route experience are preferred historically. It’s the third straight MCL route to open the racing this week with Ellis and Churchill performers winning Wednesday and Thursday. No trainer has came close to winning as much in MCL Polytrack routes than Ken McPeek (13 wins, no other trainer more than 4), and his first-time Lasix runner Suits My Fancy had been knocking at the door this summer. We haven’t seen the impact of Kentucky Downs or Arlington runners this meet as we have in the past Fall Meets, but the Ellis Park runners already own two MCL wins at the stand and perhaps Angel in Disguise will be overlooked on the tote.
Turf route allowance runners contest Race 2 and we have a field of six. Early speed has been much more dangerous in short fields, as assumed by most handicappers. The average turf route winner at Keeneland since Fall 2006 with 6 or fewer starters has been just 1-3/4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Compare that to 4-1/4 lengths off the lead on average with 7 or more entrants. Ol Army and Humble And Hungry appear the two with the most early foot. Wins among the turf allowances during the past 2 Fall Meets have been very spread out, so don’t overemphasize one circuit over another in terms of recent preps.
Race 3 is for low-end claimers going a route on the Polytrack. Presque Isle preppers have won 2 of the first 4 claiming races this meet at the $10k level, and Goshen Hawk and Hot French Fries are the only PID invaders in this event. The latter is a son of Unusual Heat, a California-based dominant Polytrack sire at Del Mar that we rarely even see represented at Keeneland. It would be Unusual Heat’s first Keeneland Poly winner, in fact, but absolutely no surprise to those who follow west coast racing on the synthetics. Trainer Tom Proctor runs two in this event, Gloriana and Allure, but it’s not been Proctor’s Keeneland “MO” to succeed at these low levels. He hasn’t won a claimer at this bottom run since 2008 Fall at Kee.
We see our first starter allowance race of the 2013 Fall Meet in today’s fourth race. As is the case with many tracks, starter allowance races are fairly formful at Keeneland with favorites winning 14 of 36 such offerings on Polytrack in past Fall Meets. Presque Isle shippers won 4 of the 7 offered last Fall, good news for those backing Bayland, Eddie Set Go, Evacuation Route and Truly Amazing, the latter a winner already at the meet running back on quick rest for Joe Cheeks but who had success at PID this summer. It’s not totally uncommon to see a quick run-back win at this level as the 2007, 2009 and 2010 Fall Meets all had starter allowance winners who were making their second attempts at the meet. This is a really interesting race in that Biker Boy has excelled exploiting his starter allowance eligibility at multiple venues, while Suyeta is a Keeneland lover from past meets who has been off the board in 6 straight races since being claimed. As we saw with Kee Poly lover New Believer earlier in the meet, these horse for course angles don’t always apply when there’s been a significant barn change so I’d be cautious to back Suyeta at this moment.
Late-runners have had the upper-hand in “non-winners of 2 lifetime” claiming routes on the Polytrack in past Fall Meets, and a closer could rule Race 5 on that note. Only 5 of 17 winners were within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile in this category in past Fall seasons, and the average winner has been nearly 5 lengths back at that juncture. The field of 8 entered is the smallest we’ve seen for this class at a Fall Meet (average 10.6), so perhaps you don’t want a deep, deep closer, but certainly a stalker in that 3-5 lengths back range makes sense given the distance and class. Of the 17 winners, 15 were horses who prepped in a route race. More than half (9) of the winners moved from turf-to-Polytrack. I must admit, though, what I like on paper in this race and the past trends are in conflict, so this will be a difficult race to read.
Race 6 is one of those classy 2-year-old maiden special weight races we clamor for in hopes of seeing a future star. Already there have been 6 at the meeting, and it’s clear here that the new Churchill Downs September racing meet is having a profound impact on the juvenile races at Keeneland. CD-prepped runners have won 3 of the first 6 MSW heats for the 2YOs. First-time starters, who accounted for nearly one-third of all such races at past Fall meets, have been shut out so far this season. The chance to run quality 2YOs at Churchill vs. the past Turfway meet during the September slot, no doubt, has had an impact on how we should judge these Keeneland heats now. Colts like Me Commanche and Brewing gained valuable experience at Churchill for Asmussen and Lukas. I will say that a first-time starter here of interest has to be Seal Six, full-brother to Travers champ Colonel John. Always respect the Saratoga 2YOs in these spots, although Ruslana twice game up big leads on a very speed-biased Saratoga turf course, which isn’t the best of signs. Boom Boom Vroom was hammered to 6-5 in her debut at the Spa when tiring badly behind next-out G1 Spinaway winner Sweet Reason.
The field size in Race 7 is significantly larger than what we see in Race 2, so look at this turf route allowance more from the eye of a late-runner being the focus. When last seen here in the Spring, Nashindy was one of the hottest-bet debut runners I can recall in my years following Keeneland and ran like it with a powerhouse 4-length win. She’s won 3 of 4 starts lifetime and got a good performance last time in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf despite a two-month absence. She is going to be so very tough to beat in this spot and many folks’ pick four single. It’s a very good and deep field she will meet, however, with most stakes-types dropping in class. Lily the Pink was the deepest closer to win on turf last Fall and her 15-length rally was the third-deepest close to win at this turf distance in the last 125 races offered. Her time also was quite good, third-fastest of the meet, so it was a sharp performance. She finished just ahead of Nashindy at Kentucky Downs last time and will offer a stiff challenge. Sea Island was second in essentially this exact same race offered during the 2013 Spring Meet.
Older maiden special weight sprinters clash in Race 8. And while we did see a first-time starter click in this situation during opening weekend, it’s rare. Only 9 of 57 past Fall Meet MSWs for the elders has been taken by a rookie. Don’t over-emphasize the surface here. In 33 past Fall MSW sprinters for this age group, 16 of the winners had never raced on synthetics prior. From a “whom have you faced?” standpoint, the company lines held by Fight the Tide and Sneaky Blowout include the runners-up in the Kentucky Derby, Travers Stakes and Indiana Derby this year. Not too shabby.
Maiden claiming sprinters wrap the card in Race 10, an event loaded with question marks on layoffs and class drops. It’s a difficult read. Favorites are just 9-for-37 on the Polytrack era in MCL going 6 furlongs, so don’t be afraid to shop. The average winner is just 1 length off the lead after the opening half-mile and fewer than a quarter of the winners have been 3 lengths back or more at that juncture. You want to be pretty forwardly placed. Only 5 of the 37 winners did not have a race in September or October prior, so long layoffs have been mostly unsuccessful in these races, a key point when you look at the roster of runners in the finale. Horses like Smile Daddy and Warrior’s Image may have the recent edge.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Five of the last 7 winners of the Race 9 $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes have been bet to 5/2 odds or less, so it’s been a race the public has had a decent feel for. Closers have excelled, with the last five winners rallying from an average of 4 lengths behind after the opening half mile – significant when you’re only going 5-1/2 furlongs on turf. And lest we forget the turf stakes last weekend where Havelock was last of all at the head of the stretch and won in hand.
Half-mile splits in 44-3/5 the past two years have helped the pace cause, and last year Madame Giry took advantage to roll by late. Runner-up Bounding Bi did all the dirty work that day but hasn’t been the same mare since. The race truly “gutted” her and she returns to the scene Friday a different animal in her performances since.
Sweet Cassiopeia was a stakes winner over this course and distance during the Spring Meet, taking the Giant’s Causeway. She drawn in post two with speed to both sides of her and will be a factor if she gets a clean seam. But each of the last 7 winners of this race were coming off turf sprint preps, not the two dirt sprints she’s been engaged in since June.
Three-year-old Magical Moon has been wildly overbet much of her career, bet to favoritism seven times with just two wins to show for it. She had a tough, wide draw at Kentucky Downs, and now will have to use all her speed from the rail and likely get hooked by Lignite, Dene Court and others to her outside. She figures to be an underlay price based on her chances of success.
All signs here point to a Madame Giri repeat, and if her nose victory at Laurel last time worries you that it wasn’t a big effort, I assure you the runner-up JuJu Eyeballs is one seriously fast filly, Maryland-bred or not. Key Madame Giri in your deep trifectas and superfectas.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.