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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 Saturday, October 5, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan seeks his 10th consecutive victory when he headlines the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile, one of five major stakes to be held on the biggest afternoon of the 2013 Fall Meeting.
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Weather: Isolated thunderstorms with a 30% chance of rain join 85 degree high temps. 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!
If you want to see why owners Sarah and Ken Ramsey rocked the Keeneland record books during the 2013 Spring Meet, look no further than Saturday’s Race 1. The Ramseys send out a two-pronged mutuel entry of All Alex and Jump For Kitten, both well-bred for the surface and with Julien Leparoux and John Velazquez tag-teaming the saddle. Ramsey won 5 claiming sprints during the ’13 Sprint meet, while no other connections won more than once. If you’re looking to upset the favorites, note Strong Humor hails from the leading Poly sprint sire in Keeneland history, Distorted Humor, and broke his maiden here in the Spring. But don’t look for a big price; all 12 claiming sprints from the $16-$24k levels the past 2 Fall Meets have been won by horses 6/1 or less heading into this meet.
Two-year-old maiden routers test the Polytrack in Race 2. Give preference to those exiting a route prep as 21 of 32 such races in the Poly era have been won by horses who prepped at a mile or longer last time out. Note 12 NYRA shippers (Saratoga 8, Belmont 4) have accounted for those 32 wins. Streethomealabama and Stock Yard Hen exit distance races at Saratoga and have to fit extremely well. Note that jockey Robby Albarado has had an amazing penchant for negotiating these 2-year-olds in maiden routes over the years at Keeneland, winning 7 such races, easily most of any jockey. He partners with Streethomealabama. Expected Prepared to appreciate the stretch out in distance and perhaps need this race to set her up for next time later in the meet.
Race 3 continues the juvenile MSW thread, but this time at the 7-furlong sprint distance. Here, favorites have been dominant, winning 46 of 104 Fall Meet MSW sprints on the Polytrack. It’s unfathomable to think favorites went 1-for-13 last Fall when looking at that seven-year stat. As for the horses to watch, consider first-time starters (41 wins) and Saratoga shippers (20 wins) as very dangerous, and that held true as those runners won 9 of the 13 races last Fall to boot. Among the rookies, Bern’ James Bern catches my eye with Julien Leparoux aboard for Steve Asmussen. His sire, Bernstein, has produced a trio of Keeneland Fall Meet 2yo MSW winners (’08, ’11, ’12), second only to Unbridled’s Song with 4. A rookie with a license to like the surface could be Hadrian’s Villa, a son of Cowboy Cal, runner-up here in the G1 Blue Grass and winner of the Bryan Station on the Keeneland Turf. With no Saratoga shippers entered, I’d give the rookies a big look.
Allowance sprinters go 7 furlongs in Race 4, and this big field of 12 appears evenly matched with quality options. If it comes down to a jockeys’ race, I’ve noticed a strong flavor of success from Kent Desormeaux (Queen’s Award), Garrett Gomez (Ire) and Shaun Bridgmohan (Amie’s Dini) in 7-furlong Poly sprints with big field sizes like this. Fearless leaders often are required at a demanding distance in a big field. One horse I will take a stand against is Chortle, who won the slowest 7-furlong allowance race of the meet in the Spring when beating a weaker field on paper. If she beats me, so be it. The Kentucky Downs shippers won 3 of 11 races during the 2012 Fall Meet for Poly allowance sprinters. This truly is a wide open race with great options; shop for prices and spread deep if playing the early pick four.
The first of the stakes events on Saturday’s card comes up in Race 5, the G3 Woodford for turf sprinters. Horses coming off of Saratoga preps at 5-1/2 furlongs on turf have won 3 of the last 4 editions of this race, and note 6 of the last 7 Woodford winners prepped at 5-1/2 furlongs or less last time out. That puts contenders like Great Mills and Spring to the Sky in great position. But when looking at POST position, clearly the edge goes to Great Mills from post 3. Posts 3-6 are the power posts in turf sprints at Keeneland and that quartet of posts has accounted for 5 of the last 7 renewals of the Woodford. Just a side, non-stats note, I was at Parx when Stormofthecentury notched his third straight win and he beat a very deep field that day. Respect the Mid-Atlantic turf sprinters when they venture out of their zone. This race is a dandy, including Woodford and Shakertown Stakes past winner Havelock in the field. But Great Mills has the right post and rider to one-up his runner-up performances in those two stakes from past seasons.
Race 6 is the G2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes and it’s produced 4 straight winners of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint: Groupie Doll, Musical Romance, Dubai Majesty and Informed Decision. The aforementioned champion Groupie Doll figures to be a strong favorite to repeat vs. five rivals. Four of the last 6 winners of the TCA have prepped at Presque Isle Downs, and it’s no surprise we have the 1-2-3 finishers out of the G2 Masters in a rematch. If you’re going to beat Groupie Doll, which I’m not saying is going to happen, it’s likely to happen on the front end. We’ve had 8 sprint stakes in the Polytrack era with 6 or fewer runners, and none of those have been won by a horse who was more than 3 lengths behind after the opening half-mile. The average winner has been three-quarters of a length off the lead at that juncture. Speedy Gypsy Robin never has lost at Keeneland (3-for-3) and her win in the Raven Run ranks as one of the top 20 fastest (of 420) in Kee Poly history, not to mention her 2011 maiden win on the Poly still today ranks as the fifth-fastest 2YO dash in Kee Poly history. One more food for thought if searching for an upset: Jockey Julien Leparoux has mastered the short field at Keeneland, winning 24 times on the Polytrack in fields with 6 or fewer horses, twice as much as any other jockey. If there’s any gamesmanship in a small field and Groupie Doll doesn’t fire, Livi Makenzie could be worth including on your tickets.
The G1 First Lady comes up next in Race 7 and this has been a spot where favorites have been strong historically. Each of the last 7 winners of the First Lady has been 4/1 or less and the average winner just 2/1 odds. Deep closers have ruled the roost here with the average winner more than 6-1/2 lengths behind after the opening half-mile since 2006, and interestingly 6 of the last 7 winners had a slight turn-back in distance from 1-1/16 miles or 1-1/8 miles preps. With Dayatthespa and Daisy Devine joined on the front end by regional newcomer Winding Way from the west coast, we could be looking at a pace that sets up very well for the late-running types again. Better Lucky could give Leparoux a fourth First Lady win in eight years, while Hungry Island didn’t get the quick pace she needed when third in this race last year. Expect that to change somewhat and her result to improve. Your guess is as good as mine on Irish raider Say for Aidan O’Brien. The Coolmore clan has won Kee turf stakes in the Fall before, namely Aussie Rules in the ’06 Shadwell Mile and Together in the ’11 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. For those wondering where Javier Castellano is Saturday and why he’s not riding Dayatthespa, he stayed in New York to pilot rising 2-year-old Honor Code for Shug McGaughey in the G1 Champagne.
Race 8 is the G1 Breeders’ Futurity for the juvenile boys, following Friday’s Alcibiades for the gals. Favorites have been abysmal in the Poly era in this race, going 0-for-7, and the average winner has been 10/1 odds. No shame in fishing for a price! While front-end speed has historically been very good in this race, and likely why we’ve seen upset prices as bettors are afraid of Poly route speed, I would be shocked if a horse can win this race on or near the lead. There’s simply TOO MUCH early heat in a deep field of 14. Pace makes the race and closers should have a big chance to catching tiring horses. The key is the first half-mile. Note in 5 Futurity editions with a half-mile split of :47 or more, the average winner was AHEAD by .10 lengths at that juncture – a rarity on Polytrack. But in the 2 Futurity editions with sub-:47 opening half-miles, the winners rallied from an average of 8 lengths back – including Dullahan here a few years back in a memorable meltdown/rally. This Futurity looks way too fast early, so I’ll lean to a closer to continue a different trend. Look for Artic Slope to rally late and become the 4th straight Futurity winner to exit a Saratoga turf prep at 1-1/16 miles. In fact, each of the last 5 Futurity winners all had at least one prior turf attempt on their resumes.
As mentioned in Race 1, a fellow claiming sprint, don’t fish too deep for big prices in the Race 10 finale. The Ramsey/Maker machine looks formidable with Ballistic Sue at what figures to be rather short odds. If you seek an alternative, consider Do Dat Blues, whose trainer Merrill Scherer has specialized in claiming sprints on the Poly, and this mare should be fit after a turf mile at Arlington to build some stamina. But the back end of this card could look pretty chalky with Groupie Doll, Wise Dan and Ballistic Sue all anchoring down spots on most pick four tickets.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The most valuable player on Saturday’s Keeneland program just might be stakes coordinator Allison De Luca. How she patched together a field of 10 with Wise Dan knowingly aiming for the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile in Race 9 is nothing short of admirable. And so it will be that the current king of the turf meets nine rivals as he seeks to improve on his perfect season.
Favorites have won 4 of the last 5 editions of the Shadwell Turf Mile, including Wise Dan as an easy 3/5 proposition one year ago. And it’s his stalk-and-pounce running style that has fit this race like a glove as 6 of the last 7 Shadwell winners sat 3-6 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile of action. Sans for a front-running upset by Thorn Song, the path to victory in this race has been almost the identical cut-and-paste trip that Wise Dan has made his hallmark. If there’s a chance to beat him, perhaps post No. 10 could provide a ground-loss hurdle. While it’s more difficult out that wide, note that since Fall 2006, we’ve seen 51 turf miles with fields of 10 or more, and posts 10 and greater own 7 wins. Almost half those winners did come from posts 1-4 in full-field miles, so if Wise Dan goes down, maybe that’s where you want to start your upset evaluations.
Winning Prize is a very fast Argentine-bred for Neil Drysdale who could come out whistling from the rail. The Del Mar to Keeneland prep angle doesn’t come up often, but it’s had some success with limited tries, including Harmonious’ win in the 2010 G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Wise Dan’s stablemate Turallure is perfectly drawn in post 2 under Julien Leparoux. Consider there’s only been 111 turf miles at Keeneland from Fall ’06 until the start of this meet and Leparoux has won 24 of them. That’s amazing from one rider.
Silver Max is part of the Dale Romans team that has gotten good again after a slow start to the season. Romans’ Little Mike annexed G1 company in New York last weekend, and Silver Max exits a win in the G2 Baruch at Saratoga as well. It will be interesting to see the pace here with Silver Max, Winning Prize and Skyring all capable near the front. It should sit up for Wise Dan’s stalk-and-pounce.
The play? I’ll take a cold Charlie LoPresti exacta with Wise Dan over Turallure.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.