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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 Saturday, April 4, 2015
What to Watch for Today: One of the biggest days in Keeneland history takes place today with not only the much-anticipated first Saturday of the Spring Meet, but also the repositioned Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes anchoring a star-studded card. Kentucky Derby prospects headline the marquee that includes four additional graded stakes events.
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: After opening day was washed out completely after 6 races, all eyes will be on Mother Nature’s next move. Fear not, sunny skies and temps in the high 50s are forecasted in what could wind up a fast track as the day progresses. The new Keeneland dirt dried wonderfully during the 2014 Fall Meeting. As for the turf course, stay alert for conditions and/or surface changes as post time approaches. At best, it will be very soft, and only the stakes may stay on the turf. Again, go to Keeneland.com for official updates as the day 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!
Race 1 is an allowance route on the track and note about 30 percent of the Fall Meet races on dirt at this trip were won by horses coming out of sprint preps. That’s decent news for potential lone speed Size. Handmade could be an interesting pedigree play as sire Candy Ride had a meet-best 3 winners during the 2014 Fall Meet on dirt going 1-1/16 miles, including a fellow Neil Howard trainee Eagle. Note that Haunted Heroine’s sharp Fall Meet win at this distance ranked third-fastest of 34 offered at the stand.
Race 2 is a turf mile allowance and, as we’ve warned many times, a haven for horses coming off long breaks to open their racing seasons. Scotland Forever will try to continue that run for a Kellyn Gorder barn that got off to a blazing-fast start to the 2014 Fall Meet. Sire Kitten’s Joy has had more offspring win turf miles at Keeneland since Fall 2006 than any other sire (6), including 5 of them in the allowance ranks. Puppy Manners tries to add to that. Only 4 of 10 entrants here exit a turf prep, something that’s been part of 72% of the winners at this course/trip since Fall 2006.
Race 3 is for 3YO MSW routers on the main track at 1-1/16 miles. Regardless of surface, 61 of the 157 MSWs for the 3YOs during Keeneland Spring Meets since Spring 2007 have been won by Gulfstream-prepped runners. The rest have been accounted by 29 first-time starters and 20 Fair Grounds invaders. When looking at just the 42 main-track routes like this one, it’s 22 Gulfstream-7 Fair Grounds-2 firsters. Wisecracker figures to be one of the heavier favorites of the entire meet exiting 2 well-regarded races at Gulfstream when second to promising sophomores. Pedigree players watch State Line, a son of Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly and by sire Tiznow, whose offspring produced 3 winners on dirt last Fall, tied for second-most of any sire.
Race 4 is a high-class turf allowance route that could pass for a Grade 1 stakes most anywhere in the country. Ah, Keeneland! Half of the 42 such races at this trip/course offered at Spring Meets since 2007 have been won by Gulfstream preppers – including 5 of the first 6 races offered during this corresponding meet a year ago. No other circuit has more than 3 winners in this situation! Sky Blazer, Guys Reward and Mutin are the GP raiders in this event. Of those 42 winners, 36 exited turf preps, so surface changers like Patrioticandproud are up against the history. Trainer Shug McGaughey (Mr. Speaker) won a similar race to this opening weekend last spring with Boisterous.
Entry-level 3YO allowance sprinters square off in Race 5. Two Weeks Off is a son of Harlan’s Holiday, who sired a meet-best 4 winners on the Keeneland dirt last Fall. Trainer Todd Pletcher won 7 dirt races last Fall, 6 of them with favorites and none over 4-1 odds and none utilized local workouts prior. Silver Ride was second in an exceptional 2YO allowance here in October in which Conquest Big Luck E ran the second-fastest 6-1/2 furlongs of the meet, only topped by graded stakes performer Bourbon Courage. If you followed Gulfstream racing of late, you know trainer Brian Lynch has popped with some very strong 3YO performances. Yockey’s Warrior really turned heads at Fair Grounds in a fleet debut romp. His trainer Al Stall Jr. historically does significantly better at Keeneland in the Fall vs. Spring and has only 2 winners in the past 2 Spring meets combined and 9 Spring Meet wins in the last 8 years.
Race 6 kicks off the stakes spree with the G1 Madison for filly & mare sprinters. Stopchargingmaria makes her 2015 return and the first filly since Informed Decision in 2009 to make the Madison a winning effort in a seasonal debut. John Velazquez pilots ‘Maria and also rode Informed Decision and last year’s Madison champ Judy the Beauty – he’s got history in this race. Route-to-sprint moves worked in the ’11 and ’13 renewals of the Madison, furthering the cause that Stopchargingmaria may not be outrun here on the cutback. Another interesting tidbit – of the 5 short-field (6 horses or less) races going 7F on dirt last fall, 5 were won by horses cutting back from route to sprint. Only 2 of 26 Fall Meet winners at 7F on dirt led after the opening half-mile (average winner was 2-1/4 lengths behind at that point, compared to just ¾ of a length behind on average in 6 furlong races).
Race 7 marks the G3 Commonwealth Stakes at 7 furlongs on dirt. While Keeneland stakes in the Polytrack era had some reputation for wild results, the Commonwealth never had a winner over 6-1 odds in its 8 synthetic renewals. Horses from 6 different venues accounted for those wins, so there’s been no regional dominance. Five of the last 8 winners were cutting back in distance. Six of those 8 had prepped in February or March and all but 1 had run already on the year. It hasn’t been a race for the long layoff types. Rocket Time and I Got It All cutting back from the Essex at Oaklawn in mid-February may fit the profile. Note that Bourbon Courage’s 6-1/2 furlong allowance win last fall was the meet’s fastest on dirt (1:15.38) by about a 3-length margin.
The G3 Shakertown Stakes for turf sprinters goes as Race 8 on Saturday. This race has been a price haven averaging more than 10-1 odds on winners the past 8 years and only 1 winning favorite. Six of the 8 winners were within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead turning for home, emphasizing speed. Four of the last 6 winners were making their first start of the year, so a fresh horse is a good thing. That’s good news for Undrafted, Tightend Touchdown, Berlino Di Tiger, Something Extra and Go Blue Or Go Home. Note that Something Extra has been 2nd and 3rd in the last 2 editions of the Shakertown. None of the last 8 victors were coming out of races farther than 6-1/2 furlongs, so turn-back attempts here by Mellow Fellow, Mosler and Channel Marker are bucking the trends. Julien Leparoux’s 10 turf sprint wins here since Fall 2006 are double that of any other jockey and he pairs with Power Alert. He and trainer Brian Lynch teamed to win a turf sprint ALW here last Spring with Chart Topper also via a Gulfstream Park prep. Interestingly Undrafted trainer Wesley Ward’s 4 turf sprint wins at Kee since Fall ’06 all have come in the Fall Meet. Posts 1-2 are winless in turf sprints with 11 or more starters, while posts 3-4-5 have accounted for 50% of the scores during that time at average odds of nearly 13-1! The power posts here, barring scratches, would belong to Zee Bros, Something Extra and Choctaw Chuck.
Race 9 is the co-featured G1 Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1-1/16 miles on the main track. This race remarkably was won wire-to-wire 6 straight years before Rosalind rallied from the clouds to score a year ago and close the Polytrack era. Three straight winners, and 4 of the last 8, exited Gulfstream Park preps. Each of the last 8 exited 2-turn preps, something Lassofthemohicans and Silverpocketsfull will try to reverse while leaving 1-turn races at GP. The only entrant coming off a 2-turn race at Gulfstream is Temper Mint Patty, who might be a good historical fit. The average Ashland winner has been 16-1 with favorites blanked in the last 8 editions. Lovely Maria returns to Keeneland where she was a clear second in the 3rd-fastest 6-1/2 furlong race at the meet from 14 offered, which is significant when you consider they were 2YO fillies. She exits a 2-turn dirt route in the Rachel Alexandra vs. next-out Fair Grounds Oaks winner Ima Chatterbox, as does Angela Renee for Todd Pletcher. Peace and War hasn’t run since winning the G1 Alcibiades in October from deep in the pack. An Alcibiades-Ashland sweep has only been done 3 times in the past 40 years (Take Charge Lady ’01-02, Silverbulletday ’98-’99, and Optimistic Gal ’75-’76).
Maiden special weight 3YO sprinters wrap the card in Race 11. These have been major speed plays even in the Polytrack era with the 30 race winners in Spring Meets since ’07 just an average of half-length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 3 of 30 closed from more than 2-1/2 lengths back at that stage. The 30 winners include 11 first-time starters and 9 Gulfstream preppers. No other circuit topped 2 winners. If it’s not Groovy A from Gulfstream, give a long look at the first-time starters. Firster High Ridge Road lures speed jockey Paco Lopez and has a win-early look about her as a half-sister to the brilliant Connie and Michael.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The G1 Toyota Blue Grass returns to dirt for the first time since 2006, and you can pick up my full analysis and picks for that race in this week’s Countdown to the Crown Scouting Report. Click here for that, which also includes previews/picks for the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.