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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 3, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Keeneland’s first natural dirt Spring Meet since 2006 raises its curtain today with a 10-race card. The opening day feature will be the G3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-old turfers and the late pick four boasts a $300,000-guaranteed pool.
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: Mother Nature, work with us here. Strong thunderstorms overnight and into opening day look almost a certainty. Keep an eye on updated conditions, turf racing availability and wind conditions. The good news, Saturday is supposed to look better.
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!
Maiden special weight routers battle on the main track in Race 1 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. Expect Fine Instincts to be very logical for a Todd Pletcher barn that captured 1 of the 2 dirt route elder MSWs at the 2014 Fall Meet. Improv seems a worthy GP raider for a Rusty Arnold barn that does well with 3YO MSWs at Keeneland. Miss Cobblestone should be running late for a Kenny McPeek barn that excels with maiden routers during the Keeneland Spring and Fall Meets.
Race 2 is a starter allowance to kick off the pick 4. Get used to these races more and more as we saw no less than 11 carded during the 2014 Fall Meet, about twice the normal outlay for a Keeneland meet of starter allowances. Starters are no place to look for prices. Of the 47 run during Spring Meets dating back to 2007, only 4 winners were above 6-1 odds and nothing over 11-1. Do note trainer Andrew McKeever owns 2 of the biggest starter allowance scores during that span (6-1 and 11-1) and fires with Paden, a very good second here last Fall on the dirt. McKeever’s 22 wins at Keeneland since Fall 2006 include 8 with James Graham in the saddle. On the flipside, trainer Ron Moquett (Peteizum) has just 1 Spring Meet win on his ledger since ’07. He’s coming off a strong Oaklawn meet, and it’s curious to see what he has left to fire.
Allowance 3YO fillies sprint 7 furlongs in Races 3 and 5 in split divisions. Only 2 of 26 races at 7 furlongs were won by the half-mile leader during the Fall’s initial dirt foray. 14 of those winners were cutting back in distance, a tactic most of this Race 3 field will employ. Trainer Vicki Oliver won first-level main-track Spring Meet allowances in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and contends in Race 3 with Hone In. Pedigree players in Race 3 note Flexible Ethics is a son of Harlan’s Holiday, whose offspring won a meet-best 4 races (all sprints) with the dirt return in Fall 2014 – including this one’s debut romp. Flexible Ethics is the only dirt starter on the card sired by Harlan’s Holiday on opening day. As for the Race 5 division, cut-back performer Milehigh Butterfly makes her first start since a good fourth in the G1 Alcibiades over this dirt surface in October. Of trainer Mark Casse’s 11-win blitz at the 2014 Keeneland Spring Meet, only 1 of those winners came directly off a prep at Oaklawn, so tread realistically with Sweet Corinna.
Race 4 is for maiden claiming sprinters at 6-1/2 furlongs on the dirt. Give some extra love to horses with a local work at Keeneland. Since 2007, 75% of Spring Meet MCL sprint winners had worked most recently at Keeneland, and 50% the MCL sprints at the Fall Meet were Keeneland workers, too. While the Fall total doesn’t sound significant, consider that in all other dirt categories, only 31% of the winners had Keeneland works. It’s paid for these lower-end, inexperienced horses to have a trip over the surface. Black Butterfly doesn’t look like much on paper, but he’s locally drilled. This will be a good angle during the meet.
To the turf we go in Race 6 for the first time at the meet (weather permitting). Spring Meet turf miles at Keeneland are havens for horses who have been off for the winter, and they must be respected – namely Idiosyncratic, Take This, Rhythm Blues and Woodfield Springs. Consider that 13 of the last 25 Keeneland Spring Meet turf miles have been won by horses who had not started during their current calendar year. Of the rest, clearly you look to the Gulfstream-prepped runners who own 37 of the Spring Meet turf mile wins here since 2007. If you like melting the logic, consider Awesome Sky and Melville, both freshened (since January) while coming in from Gulfstream. Melville’s jockey Julien Leparoux has won 12 Spring turf miles during that span, 7 more than any other rider. Posts 1-5 have accounted for 56% of the turf mile wins at Keeneland with capacity fields of 12 (which represents only 41% of the field). There are MANY ways to go here.
Race 7 is for the 3YO maiden special weight sprinters at 6 furlongs. First-time starters traditionally hold their ground very well in these spots, winning 11 of the 30 such Spring offerings since ’07 (Gulfstream shippers 9x, no other circuit more than 2). Only 1 Fair Grounds prepper has won a 3YO MSW at 6F during that span, and that came in 2009, so don’t assume How About Him has to win this race coming off the fourth behind the impressive Yockey’s Warrior. The only trainer in this race to win a Spring Meet race with a first-time starter in our database is Kiaran McLaughlin, who sends out Boone Station in search of a third Spring debut winner since ’07.
Veteran allowance campaigners route 1-1/16 miles in Race 8. Note that Races 1 and 8 are the only dirt routes on the card. About 30 percent of the Fall Meet races on dirt at this trip were won by horses coming out of sprint preps, so don’t feel as though it’s a disqualifier if you like one stretching out like A.P. Indian off the sharp comeback sprint. Certainly the percentages play to route preppers, but 30% in the minority is nothing to sneeze at. Rapscalliion aims for a third straight Keeneland meet victory (’14 Spring win on Polytrack, ’14 Fall win on sloppy dirt) for a Graham Motion barn that does very well with these deeper allowance conditions at Kee. We haven’t had a third-level allowance like this in Spring since 2007, so welcome back.
Bottom-level $10,000 claiming sprinters wrap the opening day card in Race 10. Turfway Park preppers won 47% of such races during the Polytrack era, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out on dirt. It’s notable that Kentucky Downs runners were superb in this role in the Fall on dirt and were exiting turf preps. Trainer Tom Amoss accounted for $10k CLM Spring wins in 2009, 2010 and 2014 and looks to have a stout favorite in Moonlit Meteor, a winner of 3 straight as short odds. There are no less than 5 different Turfway preppers exiting wins or narrow seconds to challenge.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Start your handicapping for the Race 9 G3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes by examining the invaders from Gulfstream Park. That’s because 5 of the last 6 winners of this race, regardless of the surface it was held over, had exited GP preps. That makes for 6 of the 13 entries in this race and makes a difficult handicapping chore more manageable.
Removing recent Gulfstream maiden breakers taking big class hikes, the quartet from Florida most under the microscope should be A Lot, Eh Cumpari, Divisidero and Night Prowler. All have a level of stakes accomplishment and are well-spotted in the Transylvania. Horses who wintered at Payson Park training center took this race in 2007, 2009 and 2010, including Bill Mott trainees Stormalory and Marcavelly. The Hall of Famer takes a similar path with A Lot, who figures very prominent. Meanwhile, Eh Cumpari makes a rider change to Robby Albarado, who has won 2 of the last 3 editions of the Transylvania aboard Silver Max and Medal Count, and also won this race in 2008.
The X-factor will be speedball Luck of the Kitten, absent since being nailed on the wire by stablemate Hootenanny in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in October. While it’s a big leap off such a layoff, this race was won in 2007 and 2010 by horses making their seasonal debuts – Marcavelly for Mott and Air Support for Shug McGaughey. So, a good horse and horseman can pull it off.
I like A Lot a lot, and will be playing him in the exotics with Luck of the Kitten, Eh Cumpari and Night Prowler. Let’s hope we can keep this race on the grass. Otherwise, all bets are off.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.