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 Saturday, October 19, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Sweet 16 in Lexington usually is reserved for March Madness, but today’s Grade 2 Raven Run has drawn a sweet field of 16 for bettors. With 2 also-eligibles, expect a field of 14 in the gate, including Spring Meet star Ciao Bella Luna, winner of the G2 Beaumont here in April. Note that jockey Rosie Napravnik is out of town today on personal business and will be back riding as scheduled on Sunday.
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Weather: Temperatures in the mid-50s are forecasted on a crisp and possibly damp day with a 40 percent chance of a few showers. 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!
Race 1 is an open $40,000 claimer sprinting 6 furlongs on the Polytrack. The important point here is field size; just 6 are entered. Speed dominates fields of 6 or fewer at this distance in limited chances all-time. The average winner in 9 previous races was AHEAD by about a neck after the first half-mile, and you rarely ever see a situation where front-runners on average are the par. Only 1 winner closed from more than 1-1/2 lengths back at that juncture. Handicap the opener for speed, which means Boston Proper, Baffoonery and Tap and Trade look most dangerous near the front. The latter is freshened and could fire sharply off since March.
$10,000 claimers sprint in Race 2. These races have been split pretty evenly this meet with a slight edge to the Churchill and Presque Isle-prepped runners. In 19 previous 7-furlong $10k claimers in the Poly era, 7 times the winner turned back from a route prep, so it’s plenty do-able but not the norm. Recon and Grace’s Devil come in off of PID routes and deserve a look, and don’t sleep on Frisco Exsective, whose previous synthetics form could win this.
Race 3 is an exceptionally tough race to handicap from a class perspective, with multiple conditions to the allowance route. Any way you slice it, it’s a pseudo stakes race given the field. More than half of all Polytrack route allowances at Keeneland have been won by horses moving from turf-to-Poly, and when you look at the contenders in this race with last-out turf preps, Nashindy would stand head and shoulders the best. Her debut win here in the spring was awesome as well and looks to have found the right spot. Drama Drama and Noble Charlotte both are solid horse-for-course plays but the former might be a bit better as a closing sprinter.
Race 4 is our third claiming sprint already on the card and this $25,000 level race is at 7 furlongs. Deeper closers have been very effective at this class level and distance in recent Fall Meets, including both winners in $25k claiming sprints earlier this meeting. Holiday Broad was a winner in the Spring for Ramsey-Maker and claimed away, and they dipped back in to re-claim the horse at Kentucky Downs last time out, always a good sign. Maker already has a 7-furlong claiming win at the meet with Golden Galaxy. While Rattlin Gypsy’s third in the Spring meet was in one of the slowest about-7F races ever run on the Kee Poly, she can play against this field.
Starter allowance competitors match up in Race 5. This meet has been an anomaly with upsets at 6-1, 8-1 and 15-1 considering the historical dominance favorites have in these races not only at Keeneland, but around the country. Six of the last 11 starter allowance winners during Kee Fall Meets have prepped at Presque Isle (1 of 3 this meet). Brandys Secret is an absolute win machine (20-for-41) lifetime and exits a good second at PID for Mike Maker. She’s 2-for-2 on this track with blowout wins both times in starters last October and this past April. She will be the single of many in the early pick four.
Race 6 will be our first turf sprint of the meet that’s not a stakes race. Deep closers Havelock and Queen’s Reward rallied for big scores in the two featured grass sprints of the Fall Meet. In 14 past Fall Meet turf sprint allowances, only 6 had turf preps, which is surprising to me, but all 14 prepped in sprint races regardless of surface. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, we saw late-season turf sprint allowances won by horses running back second time at the meet, which would bode well for fans of Janis’s Joy. I’m of the handicapping stance here that there is way too much early pace and want to see a closer on my tickets. Steve Margolis-Shawn Bridgmohan teamed to win a turf sprint allowance here during Fall 2010 and have Gator Zone on Saturday hoping lightning strikes twice.
Two-year-old maiden special weight runners go 7 furlongs in Race 7. Two of the first three such winners at the meet were Churchill Downs-prepped runners as the 2YO racing was emphasized in the new September meet in Louisville and has had a major reshaping of the Keeneland Fall Meet’s juvenile picture. Sire Tiznow has sired a trio of Kee Fall Meet 2YO MSW winners at 7 furlongs, most of any sire, and has Tiz Windy, Party Now and Easy Chair in this field. Tiz Windy comes in off a Churchill debut for patient veteran Carl Nafzger and might be a price play. Only 5 of 50 past races at this class/age/distance were won on a route-to-sprint shortening of distance like Azha, Darby Doll and Lemon de Oro will attempt.
Race 8 is a marathon turf allowance at 1-1/2 miles. Look for horses with turf preps (52 of 59 winners since 2006 Fall at this course/distance did), and those with preps at 1-1/8 miles or longer (44 of 59 during that time). Shockingly in this race, that includes only Global Express for trainer Roger Attfield. The Canadian legendary conditioner has won 4 Kee turf routes at that distance since 2006, with two wins apiece in the Bewitch Stakes and Elkhorn. Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. pilots River Lemon in search of the rider’s second turf marathon win of the meet, having won an Oct. 13 allowance on Alleghany Angel.
Race 10 is our first older maiden special weight turf race of the meet. We generally get a few of these per season (3 in 2011, 2 in 2012). Favorites are 0-for-5 in these limited engagements and 4 of the 5 winners raced forwardly within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. All 5 had made at least 1 prior start on turf. Trainer Rusty Arnold sends out Forty Four North and he owns 1 of the 5 wins with Halloween Party in 2011. Three of the 5 had turf preps, 2 of which came at Kentucky Downs. The KD raider here of note is Mt Tronador, while Perfect Spot looks hopelessly overmatched from that circuit. If speed holds true again in this situation like it has in the past, Steponit will be dangerous.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: The Race 9 Raven Run Stakes is a Grade 2 sprint at 7 furlongs on the Polytrack. We’ve had 7 past editions in the Poly era from which to glean some insight.
Only 1 of the 7 has been won by a deep closer. In fact, the other 6 winners were less than 1 length off the lead after the opening half-mile on average. And every single field had 12-14 starters during that timespan, so even with large fields, horses in the mix by mid-turn were successful. Four of the last 5 winners exited dirt preps, so don’t over-emphasize the surface. Four of the last 6 winners also came in from New York preps (Saratoga or Belmont).
Ciao Bella Luna won the Beaumont here in the Spring, but note that race had one of its fastest paces in the Poly era to close into, and came home the second-slowest Beaumont during that time. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it looks on paper? Still, I respect her return.
The NY-prepped runners here include Silsita, the lukewarm morning line favorite, as well as Lighthouse Bay and Jewel of a Cat. The latter would almost certainly be the better price of the trio and I like her sire line Wildcat Heir/Forest Wildcat on synthetics. She gets the lean for a shrewd Ben Perkins, Jr. barn.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.