Let our experts help you handicap the day's races at Keeneland. To see the analysis provided by each handicapper, choose a handicapper name on the left, then choose a date.
Please note that selections typically are available about 48 hours in advance of the race.
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 4, 2013
What to Watch for Today: A pair of defending champions return to Opening Day fixtures at Keeneland as 2012 G3 Phoenix winner Sum of the Parts seeks to repeat, while trainer Mark Casse takes aim at back-to-back renewals of the G1 Alcibiades.
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: Mostly sunny skies and a warm day approaching 85 degrees is on tap following potential thunder storms on Thursday. 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!
The 2013 Fall Meet opens in Race 1 with maiden claiming sprinters on the Polytrack. Only 17 first-time starters have won such contests from 92 offered during past Fall Meets in the Poly era, so it’s more than 4-to-1 in favor of horses with some experience. Last Fall, Kentucky Downs invaders tallied 3 wins in such spots, most of any circuit. That’s good news for US Dream, who figures to get Spring Meet record-setting trainer Mike Maker off to a fast Fall start. Wesley Ward won a pair of MCL sprints last Fall Meet and counters with Jojo’s Gal, a grandson of all-time leading Polytrack sire Unbridled’s Song.
Races 2 and 10 are split divisions of a $10,000 claiming sprint on the Polytrack. Last Fall, we had 16 claimers at the meet at $10,000 or less levels, and Presque Isle Downs preppers dominated with 6 victories. But even more telling at this class level and 6-furlong distance, note that in 24 all-time Fall Meet races, no horse has closed more than 3-1/4 lengths after the opening half-mile to win and the average winner as been AHEAD by .02 lengths at that juncture. Speed, speed, speed has been as tough at this class/distance as any situation in the Poly era. Look for horses with early speed and a preference toward Presque Isle Downs form in Races 2 and 10. Trainers Wayne Catalano and Mike Maker have shined in these types of races.
Race 3 is a 1-1/16 miles route for the 2-year-olds and we test the stamina of these babies on the main track. From 32 past Fall Meet MSW routes for the babies on Polytrack, note that only 2 first-time starters have succeeded and that 21 of 32 winners prepped last time at a mile or longer. Only 3 winners were successful after having prepped at 5-1/2 or 6 furlongs most recently, so the long stretch-outs have not worked. Saratoga preppers own 8 of these 32 wins, boding well for horses like Bold Visionary and Canadian Warrior who have both Saratoga and route experience on their resumes. No trainer has won more Fall Meet 2YO MSW routes than Bill Mott’s 5 at Keeneland, and he’ll send Poly-bred Dobra Historia to post with a big chance. Two of those 5 Mott wins in this situation were horses extended from sprint-to-route and the 7-furlong debut distance for Dobra Historia is a more achievable stretch-out than some other dashers going long. The route experience for Stonecrusher plays well here, obviously. Race seems to boil down to Bold Visionary, Dobra Historia and Stonecrusher to me.
Race 4 clearly appears the toughest challenge on the card to this eye. Wins at the middle claiming levels ($16k-$32k) during Fall Meets are almost identically distributed among Presque Isle, Arlington and Kentucky Downs shippers. The one lean among sprint races at this class level is that only 7 of 31 races have been won by horses turning back from a route prep to a sprint, so lean toward sprint-prepped runners. Top Tier Lass for Leparoux-Maker-Ramsey makes plenty of sense and likely will be where most people gravitate to in a tougher race than just taking the connections at face value. Regally Melody would seem to fit well, though it’s a “spread” race to me if playing the early pick four and a shot to find some chaos.
Race 5 also could be a haven for a price play. Maidens extend the elongated 1-1/8 miles distance on the Polytrack. We’ve only had 9 such 9-furlong MSW races in past Fall Meets on Poly, but the average winner has been a whopping 11-1 odds and favorites are just 1-for-9. The average winner has been more than 4 lengths behind after the opening half-mile. Six of 9 winners exited a route prep and the turf-to-Poly surface change has resulted in 5 wins in those 9 races. No trainer has come close to Mike Maker’s 12 career Kee Poly wins at 1-1/8 miles, so Tiu will be a deserving consideration even on a mild class rise. He’s prepped on turf and in a route, as are horses like Gameday Spanking and Professor Midnight. The best price of that group might be the way to go. But watch out for Top Priority stretching out in distance. She’s a full-sister to long-winded stakes star Tiz Miz Sue and may RELISH going long on the Polytrack for Steve Hobby, a patient trainer who doesn’t push young horses. Her third career start may be the breakout race going this distance.
The pick five begins in Race 6 with a race where “GREAT OPTIONS!” is scribbled atop my past performances. You could go many ways here and land a horse at overlaid odds. Early speed horses have dominated 7-furlong allowance sprints over the past 2 fall meets with 8 of 11 winners racing within a length of the lead or less after the opening half-mile. Only 1 winner during that time closed more than 3 lengths over the final 3 furlongs. Saratoga shippers hold a slight edge here, 9-8, over Arlington shippers in 57 past Fall Meet allowance sprints at 7F, but for Arlington to hold that close on the class differential is significant. Perhaps give a second look to Sir Applesolutely from AP who exits some strong tries, as well as Chicago-based Xbalanque, who ran a big race on the road at Kentucky Downs last time out. Lonesome Street won a very weak renewal of the G3 Commonwealth this past Spring Meet and could be overbet, as could Central Banker, a sometimes brilliant 3-year-old who was originally aimed at the Indiana Derby but rerouted to this allowance spot – that’s a mixed vibe for me. Night Party, Villandry and Stormy Going all have won races here good enough to capture this extremely tough event. It’s the toughest leg of the pick five and it’s right off the bat.
The New York shippers have owned Keeneland Fall Meet turf allowances in recent years and about half of the Race 7 field had some Saratoga experience this summer that should play well in this spot. No trainer has won more Fall Meet entry-level turf allowances than Graham Motion’s 5, and Saratoga summer runner-up I’ll Call rates a deep consideration. Sire Smart Strike is among the very best local turf sires historically, and note the horse who beat I’ll Call in an allowance race last time stepped up to be beaten only a length in a $75,000 stakes event at Parx after that. With serious contenders Prado Cat and Barzini drawing the 11 and 12 posts, the inside draws for Spa veterans One Golden Road and Rivendell make them intriguing players with I’ll Call.
Friday’s co-featured Race 8 is the Grade 3 Phoenix, and this has been a complete crapshoot in the Polytrack era. Of the 7 editions since Fall 2006, the average winner is a shade under 11-1 with favorites just 1-for-7. Speed has been very good in the Phoenix as the last 6 winners averaged just ¾ of a length off the lead after the opening half-mile, and last year’s event was won wire-to-wire by Sum of the Parts. The defending champion is back, but was aided a year ago by a dawdling second-quarter split of 23-2/5 that sealed the deal. With rapid Gentlemen’s Bet in the field, there’s no way they go that slow the 2Q this time. Two fast horses worth noting on the class rise are Reload and Laugh Track, dazzling winners here in the 2013 Spring Meet. It’s noteworthy that Reload ran the fastest 6F of the meet by a whopping .75 seconds and Laugh Track posted the fastest 6-1/2 furlongs of the meet by an equally impressive .63 seconds. The latter is sired by all-time Kee Poly sprint supersire Distorted Humor. Ghost Is Clear is really improving back to his best form and looms a danger if he breaks with any interest.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The first Grade 1 stakes of the meet is the traditional Fall Meet opening day fixture, the Alcibiades. Two-year-old fillies are challenged a route distance of 1-1/16 miles with $400,000 on the line. The distance is significant. Historically fans have been lured toward Arlington-Washington Lassie alumnae from Chicago in this race, but that’s been a disappointment in the results column. The Lassie runners exit one-turn miles and that hasn’t played to the two-turn Alcibiades success at all in the Polytrack era. My first consideration is to look elsewhere from the Lassie crowd.
Three of the last 4 editions of this race have been won by fillies shipping in from Woodbine. The Canadian connection continues Friday with debut stakes winner My Conquestadory. The Mark Cassie trainee beat the boys in style in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes, and this barn will look for back-to-back Alcibiades scores after winning a year ago with Spring in the Air. My Conquestadory does still have to answer the two-turn question as her mile win at Woodbine on grass was around one turn.
Who’s In Town, disqualified from her win in the G2 Adirondack at Saratoga, will take plenty of attention. But note that 6 of 7 Alcibiades winners in the Poly era prepped at 7 furlongs or more and 5 of those 7 had prepped at a mile or longer. Who’s In Town has not been beyond 6-1/2 furlongs to date.
If she can overcome a wide post No. 12, beware Rosalind. Ken McPeek won this race in 2008 with Dream Empress and this was the onlyl filly running on late in a speed-friendly edition of the two-turn G2 Pocahontas at Churchill Downs. She adds Lasix and looms a big danger. Personal Diary exits a third to a tremendously impressive turf stakes winner Lien On Kitten at Kentucky Downs. She, too, will be running on late.
The play will be My Conquestadory over Rosalind and Personal Diary.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.