Let our experts help you handicap the day's races at Keeneland.
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 Sunday, October 6, 2013
What to Watch for Today: G1 Ashland winner Emollient looks to add her second major Keeneland stakes win of 2013 when she headlines the G1 Spinster Stakes. That tops a card that includes an intriguing renewal of the G3 Bourbon Stakes and an appearance by the track’s all-time leader in Polytrack wins, New Believer, on the undercard.
A noticeable absence on the card today is jockey Julien Leparoux, who will be California to ride unbeaten 2-year-old Diamond Bachelor in his final Breeders’ Cup prep.
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: Prepare for wet conditions and the possibility of being off the turf as the forecast is 90% chance of storms and wind. 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!
Maiden claimers sprint 6-1/2 furlongs in Race 1, an these races traditionally have been great places to fish for an upset. In 21 Fall Meet MCLs at this tricky distance, the average winner has been 15/1 odds and a trio paid 50/1 or more! Give Sergush a longshot consideration for a Dorochenko barn that lit up the opening-day card with a big price. Favorites are 4-for-21 in such races. The Kentucky Downs shippers were solid in MCL sprints last fall, leading the way with 3 wins, and More Than Classic and Commander Lake both look logical.
While a price may be in order in the opener, Race 2, a $10,000 claimer going 1-1/8 miles on the Polytrack, appears a more straight-forward race traditionally. Of the 19 Fall Meet races for $10k or less at this distance all-time, favorites have won 9 times and only 2 winners were over 8/1 ods. The average winner has been almost 5 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. A well-bet closer fits the profile and that’s certainly Fizzano for Maker/Ramsey and New Believer, whose 8 career wins on the Kee Poly easily are the all-time record. We’ll see if New Believer can handle the distance, and reappears for a new barn after being claimed away here in the Spring from Wesley Ward.
Races 3 and 5 are split divisions of a 7-furlong maiden special weight for 2-year-olds. Don’t overemphasize previous distances here as nearly 80% of these 47 winners all-time on the Keeneland Polytrack did not race 7 furlongs or more in their final prep. It’s natural this time of year to stretch out some. First-time starters and Saratoga preppers equally share about a quarter of the wins in these races. In Race 3, trainers Phil Sims and Rusty Arnold both do very well in 7-furlong Poly races and their rookies Homesick Angel and Ready Player One command attention. Trainer Joan Scott (Brad’s Ruby) popped a pair of 2012 Fall Meet winners here at 6/1 and 9/1 odds, including impressive 2-year-old Cor Cor. As for the Race 5 division, Super Sky figures to continue a solid trend of favorites winning more than 40% of these 2YO MSWs at 7F. He’s got the pedigree, connections and Saratoga preparation that wins these on the mild stretch-out. Piper Jade deserves a look for Ken McPeek, who owns a record 5 wins in these type of races, but only 1 with a first-time starter. This one is a bet-back special later in the meet perhaps.
We stay with the 2-year-olds in Race 4, but a first-level turf allowance is the offering here. Two such races were offered during the 2012 Fall Meet, and both were won by Chicago-based trainer Chris Block. He’s back for a Block party with Afortable, who overcame a wide trip and terribly slow pace to win his debut at Arlington. Beat him to cash. Don’t expect a big price. We’ve had 9 N2L turf allowances for 2-year-olds since Fall 2006, and 8 winners were 5/2 or less with 4 winning favorites. All 9 winners prepped on turf and 6 exited a turf prep of 1 mile or longer. Take tabs on Here’s Johnny, runner-up last time in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile to Boji Moon. His result here is important to the Bourbon Stakes later, perhaps, when Boji Moon returns to action.
Race 6 presents older maiden fillies a 1-1/16 miles test on the main track. This condition has played to early speed much more than most Polytrack routes with the average winner from 17 such Fall Meet races just 1-3/4 lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. Nine of 17 winners moved from a turf prep to Polytrack, and 13 of 17 prepped in a route race. Dynagreen and Marvelous Marcy are awfully interesting on paper off their performances and those factors, not to mention sparkling pedigrees for the surface. So, too, does Batiana. If the speed angle plays out, Fioretti makes a lot of sense for trainer Graham Motion, the only trainer to win twice in a Fall Meet MSW Poly route with these older horses.
There’s no sugar coating that the Race 7 G3 Bourbon Stakes is a two-horse race between Bashart and Boji Moon. Favorites have won 4 of the last 5 editions of the Bourbon, and perhaps more telling each of the last 5 winners of this race prepped on turf at Saratoga at 1-1/16 miles. With Anticipation Stakes winner Bashart fits the profile of this race like a glove and his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won the Bourbon 3 times in just the last 7 years. But if you’ve watched freaky Iowa-bred Boji Moon run, you know beating him won’t be easy. He’s been dazzling and the push-button turn of foot he showed at Kentucky Downs on turf last time was as memorable a race as I’ve seen this year in its instant “wow” value. If you want to upend the chalks here, there is some solace. The last 5 winners of this race all were deep closers, averaging -7 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Both Bashart and Boji Moon have early speed and maybe they duel eachother and soften up for a closer? If that’s the case, then I’d still look at the Saratoga turf route preparation as a key and you’ll notice both Tiger Bourbon and All Cash have that with a more recent race snuck in-between.
Race 9 wraps the card and it’s a N1X turf allowance, where last Fall Meet these events were ridiculous havens for deep closers. The average winner in the 7 races run last Fall for this class/course were 9-3/4 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. NYRA-prepped horses from Saratoga and Belmont have been pretty dominant at this situation, which is good news for Abbey Street, Keening and Kitten’s Queen, but also very noteworthy for Saratoga summer runners Can’t Catch Kate and Sense to Compete, both of whom have a race since then. Trainer Graham Motion owns 5 Fall Meet turf allowance wins at this N1X allowance level and just missed adding another one on opening day Friday with I’ll Call. His charge Sense to Compete rates a big-time shot.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The Grade 1 $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster traditionally rates THE race of the Keeneland Fall Meet. This year’s field of 11 does not disappoint with G1 Ashland winner Emolient taking on older horses for the first time, including G1 Apple Blossom heroine On Fire Baby and G1 Vanity champ Byrama in an intersectional showdown.
Keeneland’s major stakes once took a lot of flak for upset results, but keep in mind the Spinster has seen 6 of its 7 winners in the Polytrack era go off 5/1 or less and favorites have won the last two editions. In its 7 Poly editions, note the last 6 straight winners have come in from New York preps and 5 of those prepped on turf at Saratoga. Five of the last 6 prepped at 1-1/8 miles or longer to boot.
Emolient fits all that, exiting a 9-furlong turf prep in Belmont’s G1 Garden City, but there’s an even more interesting fact about her and the Spinster. Her sire Empire Maker amazingly has been the papa of THREE straight Spinster winners: Mushka, Acoma and In Lingerie. Her trainer Bill Mott conditioned Mushka to victory here three years ago.
But trusting Emolient never is easy. She’s had races that make you scratch your head – 5th by 30 lengths, 6th by 21 lengths and an 8th-place finish last time out. To be fair, she rebounded from those two previous terrible finishes to win the G1 Ashland and G1 American Oaks. If you trust another rebound, she’s clearly the horse to beat.
On Fire Baby does not have the breeding for 1-1/8 miles in my eyes and the wide post and demanding deep track we’ve seen early in the meeting play against her. Hard Not To Like ran a very good race here in the Ashland of 2012 and if she can overcame a wide post draw, she could factor in her Keeneland return. Byrama was likely best here when second in the G1 Madison going 7 furlongs and can make them sweat with a late run.
Emolient seems to have the right profile and local success to be the one to beat. But I can’t quite trust her with all my marbles. I’ll stake my trust on Hard Not To Like as the key “price” horse with a softish place bet and exacta boxes, Hard Not To Like and Emolient as well as Hard Not To Like and Byrama.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.