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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 Thursday, April 9, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Trainer Graham Motion sends out an interesting pair today with 2014 Appalachian Stakes winner Daring Dancer and ballyhooed Gulfstream debut winner Donworth contesting separate allowance races on the card. But note Donworth is cross-entered in Saturday’s G3 Lexington and could be re-routed.
The Fair Grounds shippers have been exceptional through the first 3 days with 7 winners, including a trio on Wednesday – most of any circuit (Gulfstream has 4).
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: Overnight rains are almost assured and there’s a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday. Keep an eye on the sky and the track conditions/changes. The soft turf course on Wednesday played very well to Europeans who ran 1-2-4 in an allowance race among the 3 invaders.
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!
We open the card in Race 1 where 2-year-olds kick things off just like Wednesday. Same verse as Wesley Ward sends out a pair (Maniacal and Ransom) against Steve Asmussen (Ifyouwinyougetmore). They’ve combined to win 35 of 64 Spring Meet baby races since ’06. None of the 7 sires in this race have produced a 2YO dash winner at Keeneland, so there’s not much blatant pedigree help. But do note Maniacal’s damsire Sky Mesa was the sire of record for no less than 4 baby dash winners here – most of any sire.
Race 2 is an open $32,000 claiming sprint. Mid-level claimers are one of the rare places where Fair Grounds preppers actually have a regional edge. Moon Traveler exits a win at FG for a Michelle Lovell barn that has won 11 races at Keeneland since 2010 – and 10 of those came in sprints. Note that 17 of 29 mid-level claiming races at 7 furlongs were won by horses cutting back in distance during Spring Meets in the Polytrack era. That held true on dirt in the Fall Meet when 2 of 3 such races were won on the distance cut-back.
Turf mile allowance runners match up in Race 3. The races have been great spots historically for horses coming off winter breaks and making their first start of the year. That’s why you see so many in this race on that move – it’s worked. An amazing 18 of 38 turf mile allowances from Spring ’06-’14 were won by horses making their seasonal returns. Shug McGaughey has won a Kee Spring turf mile allowance each of the past 3 meets and sends out comebacking J Wonder, a British G3 stakes winner. This allowance features past Keeneland stakes winners Overheard (2013 Valley View) and Daring Dancer (2014 Appalachian).
Race 4 is a mid-level claiming sprint at 6 furlongs, and as mentioned earlier, these races typically are strong suits for the Fair Ground crowd. Consider County Corrections, Ouimet, Unbridled Venture and Night Maneuver dangerous from New Orleans. Michelle Lovell could be in line for a double-dip in Races 2 and 4 as she’ll send out Unbridled Venture in this one. Night Maneuver figures to be a very solid favorite. He was fourth here in the Fall Meet in the second-fastest of 11 claimers run at 6 furlongs. But note trainer Maker’s not one for the brilliant at Keeneland. Only 14 of his 115 local wins since Fall 2006 have come in races at 6 furlongs or shorter.
Allowance routers battle on the dirt in Race 5. Pedigree buffs may recognize Miss Besilu as sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam. Don’t be too afraid of the layoffs at this allowance class level. We saw no less than 4 allowance winners during opening Friday-Saturday make their first starts of the calendar year. Half of the dirt route allowance winners at the Fall Meet were coming off turf preps, a move half of this 8-pack will try. Trainer Ian Wilkes send out two runners, Kimberly Jean and Ambusher, but note that 16 of his 21 main track winners at Keeneland since Fall ’06 have been in sprints, including both on dirt.
Race 6 is a turf route maiden special weight for 3-year-olds and we typically see 5-6 of these each Spring Meet. Gulfstream preppers have won 11 of 21 offered since 2010 and that bodes well for Love’s Illusion, English Sunset, Sonoma d’Oro and also-eligible Right Decision if she draws in. Rookies own just 2 debut wins from those 21 events. The average winner has been 8-1 odds with 6 of 21 being longshots 12/1 or more. You can dig here a bit. Note that 17 of 21 exited a route prep, but only 12 of 21 prepped on turf last out. Sire Tapit has had 7 winners on the Keeneland grass in 2013-’14, matching the top total produced by Kitten’s Joy, and is the sire of Love’s Illusion. Posts 10-12 are 11-for-47 in full-field 1-1/16 miles turf races since 2006, so don’t get too hung up on a wide post draw.
Allowance sprinters go 7 furlongs in Race 7. Note that 6 of the 7 allowance sprints at 7 furlongs during the Fall Meet on dirt were won by horses turning back from routes. We saw 1 of 2 such races on opening day go to a turn-back runner as well. Watch for Elusive Fate, Cali Star and Runway Giant shortening the trip. Trainer Ian Wilkes won an opening day 7F allowance with Sweetgrass in from Gulfstream and tries twice here with GP shippers Bird Maker and Runway Giant.
Bottom-level $10,000 claiming sprinters round out the card in Race 9. 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. Tom Amoss has won 3 basement claimers (2009, ’11, ’14) and has Moonlit Meteor a perfect 3-for-3 since being claimed. Once you get past Moonlit Meteor, there’s any number of Turfway shippers in decent form to choose from in a single-or-spread kind of race. Note this race was brought back from the opening day card that was cancelled after 6 races due to weather.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Entry level 3-year-old allowance runners showdown in the Race 8 feature. Some of these were on the cusp of Saturday’s G3 Lexington Stakes, but the connections take a more reasonable path here over 1-1/16 miles. Gulfstream shippers tripled up any other circuit 18-6 in the 40 Spring Meet N1X allowance routes here since 2007. That’s positive for Donworth, Shaman Ghost and Outlash in this race. They’ll meet up with Bluff, an enigmatic Fair Grounds maiden breaker who can look ordinary one day and a future star the next.
On Polytrack at this class/distance, only 3 of 40 winners exited sprint preps. We’ll see if such trends continue on dirt. In the Fall Meet on dirt, 5 of 7 allowances at 1-1/16 miles went to those with route preps.Sprint-to-route candidate Donworth likely will be a heavy favorite off a troubled trip everyone saw in his debut, yet he still won. His sire Tiznow had 3 offspring win on the dirt during the Fall Meet, second-most to Harlan’s Holiday.
Shaman Ghost is the only Gulfstream shipper exiting a route prep and that fits the profile of these races quite well. I’ll give him a shot at what figures to be overlay odds and keep it simple – win/place.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.