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.
Keeneland Keys for Sunday, April 21, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The Grade 3 $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes matches Grade 1 Clark Handicap winner Successful Dan and his perfect 4-for-4 local record against a field that boasts heroes of the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 1 Pacific Classic. It’s our final Sunday card of the meet and spring-boards us into a three-day racing week to come.
Joel Rosario won 4 races on Saturday to continue his dominance, while Julien Leparoux continues to play a very strong second fiddle. It’s been these two guys and everyone else as the meet has progressed.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat 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: Partly cloudy skies and temperatures flirting with 60 degrees are in the forecast. 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: We go race-by-race with handicapping angles and trends to help point you toward the winners. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 opens the card with a maiden claiming route race. Gulfstream turf preppers dominate these festivities historically at this class/distance, so Fluent for the red-hot Ramsey-Maker-Rosario team whould be a great place to focus. Fort Morgan fits as a solid alterative. This should be a two-horse race. Twining Hearts ran decently last time before tiring against Abraham, who ran fourth in Saturday’s Grade 3 Illinois Derby.
Maiden claiming sprinters dash 6 furlongs in Race 2, and it’s our 10th such race at the 2013 Spring Meet. Early speed has handled its business in these races at the meet with the average winner less than a length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Muggsy figures to flash from the rail in his first start since April 2012, along with the speedy Phish Fan. If Steel Guitar breaks with the first flight, the son of Unbridled’s Song is bred to love this footing.
In Race 3, note Fair Grounds shippers have won 5 of the 8 races this meet for claimers at the $16,000-$25,000 ranges, including Saturday’s $20,000 score by Miss Clark County. Kingsford Drive already has a win at the level this meet for the FG set, and looks to double-down for the meet’s red-hot connections. I see Kingsford Drive as a standout single in the early pick 4 and your exotics key intra-race. Underneath, FG shipper Marching Orders, past Keeneland solid Poly performer Fish and Fall Meet winner Outofsiteoutofmind make all the sense.
Horses running back for the second time at the meet have done very well at the $50,000 upper-level claiming ranks in past Spring Meets. Keep that in mind in Race 4 as you analyze Costly on the class rise. Both late-season $50k claimers offered at the 2012 Spring Meet were won by “run-backs” in their second start of the stand. Song Girl is 2-for-2 at Keeneland, both at 6 furlongs and we saw Saturday in the Lexington Stakes what a horse-for-course can do in Winning Cause, still perfect at Keeneland. Tweedy figures prominently on the front end with Costly if they can shake clear early.
Races 5 and 7 are turf allowances, where favorites are 8-for-17 at the meet at this class/course to date. Only 1 winner has been above 8-1 (average 7-2 odds), so don’t expect a bomber here. Those 16 winners included 13 that prepped on turf and 2 on synthetic and 1 on dirt. Always give proven turf preppers the edge. In Race 5, Jockey Edgar Prado has piloted a trio of turf allowance winners at the meet and he’ll ride Screenplay. Pedigree-wise beware Red Strike, a son of elite Keeneland turf sire Smart Strike. Note that 8 of the 17 turf allowance winners at the meet were making their first start of the year, including yesterday’s winner Valentino Beauty. So don’t fear the layoffs for Humble and Hungry, Positive Side or Any Given Royal. Humble And Hungry scratched from Saturday’s Henry Clark Stakes at Pimlico when the race was washed off the turf. He’s looking to get a prep in for next month’s Dixie Stakes on the Preakness undercard. As for the Race 7 division, comebacking Hitechnoweenie lands in that good first spot for the season. Trainer Graham Motion and Edgar Prado have been a turf dynamic duo this meet and have Three Hearts. Don’t sleep on hot-training Joan Scott who sends out longshot Raven’s Rockette at 20-1 in the line. Her horses have been raring to go in limited chances at the meet.
Allowance sprinters duel in Race 6 at 7 furlongs. Horses exiting dirt preps have won 6 of the last 8 entry level allowance sprints at 7 furlongs during Keeneland Spring Meets, including dirt performers winning all 3 this season (Saturday’s winner Awesome Flower won twice off the dirt, so one of her preps would be Polytrack then, obviously). Two-thirds of the winners of these Spring 7F first-level allowances have been won by horses on or within a length of the lead after the opening half-mile. Barrio Baby and Palio Prince look like the fastest dirt horses to contest the lead. Le Mans has back class and former speed, and if sent, he’s bred to perhaps handle this surface. A freshened Dynamical has show the ability to have dirt speed and could be a good fit in his first start since last summer, but may need the race.
Race 9 is a rare 1-3/16 miles maiden turf heat. We saw one Saturday that was won by Gulfstream shipper Mills, a heavy and prompt favorite. Caxambas Pass enters the finale today off a similar resume for respected trainer Shug McGaughey, who already has won 3 turf races at the current meeting. Glorious Chant is well-bred for the surface, enters from Gulfstream and trainer Michael Matz has had great success in past Keeneland Spring Meets with these older maiden breakers. First-time starters have won just 2 of 15 turf maidens held during Spring Meets over the last 3 years, so give the edge to experience. Nine of those 15 winners prepped at Gulfstream.
Feature Race Play: Five of the six winners of the Grade 3 Ben Ali (Race 8) in the Polytrack era have raced on the lead or within a length after the opening half-mile. Favorites have won this race three years running, including Wise Dan a year ago for the same connections that will send out this year’s favorite Successful Dan.
While the layoff may concern you with Successful Dan since last summer, note that Exhi won the Ben Ali in 2011 in his first start of that season, and the Lopresti barn’s Wise Dan won the G1 Maker’s 46 Mile already this meet off a winter layoff.
Successful Dan has tactical speed to sprint short or route long, and with no speed burners in this race, should be sitting close up in the pace. The way Leparoux and Rosario are riding right now, expect Boisterous to be making the late move to try and catch Successful Dan. It’s a two-horse race to me and hard to separate. Go two-deep in the multi-race wagers and enjoy the show!
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.