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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 Wednesday, October 8, 2014
What to Watch for Today: It’s ladies day at Keeneland with up-and-coming juvenile fillies on the turf in the G3 $150,000 JP Morgan Chase Jessamine Stakes, as well as the local return of Wise Dan’s little sister, Enchanting Lisa, in a Race 9 allowance finale.
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 wet conditions earlier in the week, sunny skies and temps in the low 70s are forecasted for what should be a nice Wednesday. Keep track of the conditions of the dirt and turf from the earlier precip, and always keep an eye on the wind. Flags to the left favor speed, flags to the right give closers their best chance to succeed. During opening week, we had to “left” days on Fri-Sat, and then a “right” day on Sun.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to give you the inside stats. 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!
As is our Wednesday custom, we’ll take a look back at the previous week’s racing to give us some insight to how the meet is developing. Here’s what we know so far through three days of racing:
From 30 races opening weekend, the average winner has been 4.28-to-1 odds with favorites scoring a blistering 14-for-30 (47%). Compare that to the 2013 Fall Meet totals of 6.17-to-1 and 38% winning favorites. The public has been more in tune to the results to be certain, and a factor in that would be that the average field size so far this meet is 8.37 starters per race compared to 10.06 on the corresponding days in 2013. The average winner in races with 10 or more starters this meet has been 6.21-to-1, nearly identical to last year’s average winner when comparing similar field sizes.
We had just 6 turf races opening weekend, so let’s get those sorted out first. The winners came twice for Saratoga and Kentucky Downs each and once from Arlington and Gulfstream Park. John Velazquez rode two turf winners, the only rider to double up. While there were no wire-to-wire turf winners routing, 4 of the 5 turf routes were won by horses within 3 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile (1 deep closer, Arcane, rallied from 10 lengths back on Sunday). The only turf sprint went to pace dueler No Nay Never in the Woodford Stakes. Favorites went 2-for-6 on turf with an average winner at 4.83-to-1. The average field size on turf was 8.83 starters per race.
Of the 24 races held on the new Keeneland dirt course, favorites won exactly half (12-for-24, 50%) with an average winner of 4.14-to-1. Churchill Downs preppers dominated with 7 wins, followed next by Saratoga (4), Woodbine (3), Kentucky Downs (2) and Arlington (2). No less than 10 different last-out locations produced the 24 dirt winners opening weekend. Dirt preps produced 14 of the 24 dirt winners, followed by synthetic (5), turf (4) and one first-time starter. Sires City Zip and Malibu Moon each produced 2 dirt winners opening weekend. Todd Pletcher (4) and Kellyn Gorder (2) are the only trainers to saddle multiple dirt winners during that time. Julien Leparoux (3) and John Velazquez (3) paced the jockey colony on dirt.
Pace-wise on dirt, we had 11 sprints opening weekend. All 11 raced within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile with an astounding 10 of those within a half-length! The average winner was exactly 0 lengths in the pace column, meaning they were RIGHT ON THE LEAD. Only 1 of 11 sprint winners had exited a route prep (i.e. turning back from route to sprint). Woodbine and Churchill preppers combined for 3 dirt sprint wins apiece. Favorites were a mind-boggling 7-for-11 in dirt sprints with only 1 of 11 winners topping the 5-to-1 threshold.
We actually had more routes on the dirt than sprints, 13 in all, no thanks to a few races washed off the turf on opening Friday to the main track. Favorites went 5-for-13 in dirt routes with 10-of-13 winners at 5-to-1 or less on the tote. Only 1 dirt route winner topped 8-to-1. Three of 13 route winners raced on or dueling for the lead at the half-mile marker, with an average winner on the weekend 3-3/4 lengths off the lead at that juncture. Three deep closers were victorious, including G1 Spinster winner Don’t Tell Sophia and G1 Alcbiades winner Peace And War. In dirt routes, the wins were paced by Saratoga (4) and Churchill (4) preppers. Nine of those 13 dirt route winners prepped on dirt, 3 on turf and 1 on synthetic. Six of 13 were successful stretching out from a route to sprint. Todd Pletcher trained 3 dirt route winners, the only conditioner with more than 1. Jockeys Leparoux, Velazquez and Joel Rosario each piloted 2 dirt route winners.
Only 6 of 24 main track winners had a local Keeneland workout prior, so it hasn’t been requisite.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 8 is the G3 $150,000 JP Morgan Chase Jessamine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The New York raiders have had their way in recent years, winning 4 of the last 5 editions, including Kitten Kaboodle a year ago for trainer Chad Brown. The Brown barn is back with Fila Primera via Belmont Park and a debut win, along with fellow NYRA shippers Rainha Da Bateria and Magnificent Margo.
The winning trip in the Jessamine over recent history has been to sit about 5 lengths off the early lead after the opening half-mile. Laragh (2008) is the only front-runner to win the Jessamine in the last 8 years. Each of the last 8 winners exited a turf prep and 6 of those at 1 mile or longer. Only 4 runners in this race can make that turf-route prep claim – the New Yorkers plus Kentucky Downs debut winner Walking the Kitten, who will try to give owners Sarah and Ken Ramsey and their prized sire Kitten’s Joy back-to-back Jessamine wins after Kitten Kaboodle a season ago.
This high-quality field also includes unbeaten Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Quality Rocks, who moves to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s shedrow for the first time.
Fila Primera’s press/stalk debut winning style ought to serve her well under America’s top turf pilot Javier Castellano. I’ll be keying her on top of Raina Da Bateria, Walking the Kitten and Magnificent Margo.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.