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 Friday, October 18, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Today’s late pick four carries a $200,000-guaranteed pool, courtesy of TVG, and features the Grade 3 $150,000 Valley View for 3-year-old turf fillies. It provides a 1-2 rematch from this Spring Meet’s Appalachian Stakes with the return of Unbelievable Dream and Overheard.
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Weather: Sunny skies with temperatures nearing 67 degrees are in the forecast, quite an improvement since the start of the racing week. 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 opens the action with maiden claiming sprinters going 6 furlongs. The first 6 MCL sprints of this meet were won in similar fashion with horses racing about 2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 1 has been taken in route-to-sprint fashion, so give those exiting sprint preps the edge. In fact, 17 of 19 six-furlong sprints at this Fall Meet were won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after a half-mile, so you need to be fairly close up, and only 1 route-to-sprint winner has happened all Meet at this distance. Those exiting sprints with a good early lick include Hope’s Rose, Erzulie Dantor and JP’s Flashy Honey, while Mountaineer invaders generally are toss-outs for me until proven otherwise -- such as Hong Kong Nights. The same scenario applies in Race 3 for maiden claimers at 6 panels. Gumper, Peekaboo Visiion and Blackout appear closest to the profile, but beware Marty the Monster who should improve getting away from the rail drawn in his debut.
Starter allowance runners contest Race 2 at 1-1/8 miles on the main track. Mike Maker has 10 starter allowance wins on the Keeneland Polytrack, far and away the best total of any barn, and will be prominent here with Horned Frog and Brother Bird. The former has been favored in 10 straight starts and the latter won last year’s Claiming Crown Iron Horse title at Gulfstream. How you get by the uncoupled Maker duo here, I don’t know. Lovesmelovesmenot was a winner over this track in the 2011 Fall Meet at the $7,500 claiming level following a Presque Isle prep and again makes a similar surface transition.
Race 4 offers a sprint for $40,000 claimers, this one restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Two places to look in these upper-level claimers historically have been horses making their second start of the meet, which I dub “run-backs” and those who have prepped at Arlington Park. Both have been successful in this situation. Chinchero steps up in class off a $20,000 claiming win at the meet on opening day, while the AP contingent is headed by Prettyhotprincess, Wahine Bling and Forget That Gal. I like the Stormy Atlantic underrated Poly sire angle with Prettyhotprincess among that trio, and she’s shown some speed over this course in two previous attempts.
Two-year-old maiden special weight runners battle at 7 furlongs in Race 5. Horses who prepped at the new Churchill Downs meet in September have won 2 of the first 3 such races offered this season, both extending out 1/8 of a mile from 6 furlongs. Nearly 75% of the 50 such races in the Poly era were won by horses who had made at least 1 prior start, so first-time starters buck the trend in this situation. Prior to this meet, Saratoga shippers were stout in these races, and you have to look at Bro Rodrigeaux as a serious threat by Poly sprint super-sire Tale of the Cat. His debut fourth at Saratoga to eventual G1 Champagne runner-up Honor Code looks to be the absolute key 2-year-old race of the Spa summer with tremendous next-out success. That runner, with the Churchill raiders Night League, Wingate Hall and Q Two, appear strongest of the experienced entrants. Of the rookies, beware Royale Sky for a Ken McPeek barn with more 7F 2YO MSW wins on the Keeneland Poly (5) than anyone, though only 1 came with a debut artist. Race 6 is a split division of today’s Race 5, and trainer D. Wayne Lukas could hold a sweeping hand with Tall Boy being another Tale of the Cat who showed some life at Saratoga. Long Station fits the McPeek profile coming off a good second at Churchill, while I like the pedigree for Valdina’s Will and Little Curlin.
Race 7 could be a Grade 2 or Grade 3 stakes, but it’s simply an open allowance at 1 mile on turf. We don’t get many of these kind of races, but, boy what a field for $64,000! Turallure comes back on 13 days’ rest after a no-show in the Shadwell Mile moved to the main track, but trainer Charlie LoPresti adds blinkers to a veteran who has played at the very highest levels on this turf course. Rogue Romance, a stakes winner here at age 2, is back after a long absence and trainer change to Eric Reed. Nates Mineshaft won the ’12 New Orleans Handicap. Regally Ready won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. This is such an odd and eclectic mix of horses in a turf mile, that there’s not much to go on from a trends standpoint. We’ve had 19 turf miles with capacity fields of 12 since the Fall 2006 meet, and only 7 of the winners were less than 3 lengths of the leader after the opening half-mile. I’d like to tell you I have a good feel for this race and a strong opinion, but it’s simply a fantastic race with many options and question marks. I prefer specialists in turf miles, and the true turf milers here are Turallure, Trend and Seruni. Maybe it’s as simple as that? This race kicks off the late pick four and that $200,000 guarantee, so get some coverage!
Allowance runners compete again in Race 8, this time a N1X event at 1-1/16 miles on Polytrack. In 31 such Fall Meet offerings, 17 of the winners exited a turf prep with only 2 coming off dirt preps (12 synthetic preps). Only 4 of 31 were won by horses who prepped shorter than 1 mile last time out. Given that, this field narrows to Before You Know It, Two to Tango, Acenda and Merilore as those coming off turf preps at a mile or longer. On the fringe of that would be Cloud Scapes, whose trainer Graham Motion has had a nifty hand in these entry level allowances during past Fall Meets. Expect that runner to be well-placed for the long-awaited return, but the wide post draw may be enough to push her out of the win spot. While I like Spring Reason on paper, it’s amazing to note that Jonathan Sheppard has won merely 3 Polytrack route races at Keeneland only 1 of those came in a sprint-to-route fashion (Remember Then during ’13 Spring Meet).
The card wraps with $10,000 claimers sprinting 7 furlongs on Polytrack. Don’t be afraid of a horse cutting back in distance from a route here as 11 of the 21 past Fall Meet races at this class/distance were won in route-to-sprint fashion. I’am Toorific and Safe Word shorten their trip from Presque Isle routes, and the PID types have more than held their own this meeting. Favorites are only 5 for 21 at this class/distance in past Fall Meets and the average winner is nearly 8-1 odds, so don’t be shy in looking for an upset.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Friday’s Grade 3 $150,000 Valley View could be price central once again. A big field of 14 entered with 12 to start and the last 8 winners of this race on turf have included only 1 favorite and an average off odds of 14-1! The race was so popular in 2009 and 2012 that it was split into two divisions.
I’m going to take a stand against the Appalachian Stakes 1-2 finishers from the spring, Unbelievable Dream and Overheard. That race had one of its fastest early paces in recent history and turned out the slowest running over the last 7 years as Unbelievable Dream closed from 15 back to win. I just don’t think it was a very good race and certainly not as deep and tough as the Valley View has become.
Summer of Fun is perfect drawn in post 3 and her recent, close loss to Alterite looks even better in recent days as that runner came back to run a dynamite second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup here last Saturday. Add in Discreet Marq’s win in a very strong edition of the Pebbles at Belmont since then. Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. is picking up quality mounts and confidence of the Keeneland trainers’ colony and already has had success on this filly.
I was at Colonial Downs when Nellie Cashman beat a very good field in the Virginia Oaks on a boggy-type turf course. If the turf is less-than-firm, she’ll handle it.
Sustained is an interesting play here as Dale Romans’ success with fast turf fillies is something I like to see and this daughter of War Front has a sweet pedigree of speed up top and stamina on the bottom that intrigues me. She’s stakes quality on the class rise and to be respected.
Summer of Fun and Sustained are the way I’ll look in the Valley View.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.