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 11, 2014
What to Watch for Today: The $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup will be the meet’s final Grade 1 race on the ledger, and we welcome a couple of pedigree all-stars to excite the wagering palate as well. In Race 5, it’s the son of Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill that we’ll eyeball, named Motivating. And in the Race 9 featured stakes, legendary race mare Royal Delta’s younger sister Crown Queen brings her $1.6 million Keeneland Sales price tag to the party.
Jockeys Corey Lanerie and Joel Rosario both came up big on Friday and carry the momentum into the weekend.
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: Friday rains left the main track muddy by the close of racing and the turf course yielding throughout the day. Keep an eye on that as the morning unfolds and tab the updated connections.
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!
Race 1 launches the Saturday action with a $16,000 claimer on the dirt. This class level has been very well distributed over past Fall Meets in terms of where the winners come from. Presque Isle invaders did double-up in 6 such offerings during the 2013 Fall Meet and that’s good news for backers of Too Wild For Words – who incidentally did win a $25,000 claiming sprint on the Poly at Keeneland during the 2012 Spring Meet. Trainer Sally Schu has notched wins at the ’12 and ’13 Fall Meets at 7/1, 7/1 and 10/1 odds. She’ll try again with Grand Coulee.
We move up the claiming ladder in Race 2 for $20,000-level runners and stretch out to 1-1/16 miles. Trainer Mike Maker has won 19 claiming routes during Kee Fall Meets since 2006, an astounding number when you consider the next-best trainers have 4. Cut the Net could put Maker over the 20-mark in this category while coming off a long layoff. Despite coming off back-to-back wins, don’t be surprised if The Third Ace offers value off the van from Delaware Park. The DelPark raiders have 19 wins during Kee Fall Meets since ’06, and NONE were favored with an average win price of 7/1. Trainer Jones and jockey Clark already have a win at the meet in from the Mid-Atlantic via Monmouth.
Starter allowance company battles in Race 3, where trainer Tom Amoss seeks a second such score of the week when he sends out Joedini. The barn won Thursday’s starter with red-hot Little Face, who was making a sixth straight trip to the winner’s circle. Skylander, a two-time local winner in the Polytrack era, tries for a personal surface sweep after adding a turf win at Kentucky Downs last time out. Despite the popular winner Thursday, Fall Meet starter allowances haven’t been kind to favorites – just 3 for the last 18 following Little Face’s score earlier in the week.
Races 4 and 5 are split divisions of a maiden special weight sprint on the dirt at 6 furlongs for the older horses. Early speed was highly effective at this class/distance even in the Polytrack era and the way the track has played to speed in sprints, that’s the logical lean in these races. As for Race 5, Trainer Al Stall won similar elder MSWs during the ’11 and ’12 Fall Meets at Keeneland and will have the fast Hidden Candy in here after tiring badly last time against rising star Three Alarm Fire at Saratoga. Larry Rivelli won a similar race in here in Fall ’12 and returns with Felix the Lion. In the second division in Race 6, beware Dr Turkmen for the Mural Sancal barn. Obscure to many fans, they reached for Julien Leparoux earlier in the meet to win and allowance with Grand Elmendorf and once again are able to secure the top pilot.
Race 6 is a classy, third-level turf allowance for the fillies/mares with a huge field of 12 and some also-eligbles. As mentioned in Friday’s blog with a similar race for the boys, favorites have won just 27% of the time in 122 full-field turf races since Fall 2006 at Keeneland with average $2 exotics payoffs of $132 in exactas, $1199 in trifectas and $11,638 in superfectas. Needless to say, this is the race of the day you want to attack from an exotics standpoint if you’re looking to make a score. Posts 10-12 are a remarkable 9-for-21 in these capacity turf route fields at this particular 1-1/8 miles distance (more wins than posts 1-6 combined). Two-thirds (14) of those 21 winners were within 3 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. The three widest-drawn in this race all look playable – Keening, Corporate Culture and Modernstone, as well as Gathering if she was to draw in off the also-eligible list.
Two-year-old allowance runners sprint 6-1/2 furlongs in Race 7. This has been a good spot for Arlington preppers both early in this meet and in past Fall Meets. Sarah Sis and Bossy represent the Chicago contingent in this race. Both also are blessed with early speed, which has been effective sprinting on the main track so far this meet. And don’t sleep on trainer Phil Sims’ barn, which has been on point in recent days as Tasseography exits a rallying debut win and could round out the exotics if the speed holds.
The John Velazquez-Todd Pletcher steamroller returns to action in Race 8, a sharp, 7-furlong allowance sprint. The dynamic duo teams with Street Girl, multiple Grade 1-placed, and won 2 races in tandem here last Saturday including Carpe Diem in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity. The winning trip so far this meet in 7 furlong races has been to press about a half-length to 2 lengths off the lead and pounce, and note 2 of the first 4 winners of the meet at this distance were able to shorten the trip from a route prep – which could be important in this field with no less than 4 distance “turn-backs” entered.
We close the card with 2-year-old maiden special weight sprinters at 6-1/2 furlongs. Favorites won 4 of the first 6 MSWs for the babies at the meet on the main track with 5 of the winners going off 5/2 or less on the tote. The sprints have been won essentially wire to wire at this age/class. Jockey John Velazquez already has won 2 juvenile MSWs at the meet (Zito, Pletcher trainees) and looks for a third with a third different barn (Motion) when he pilots Wasatch.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 9 is the Grade 1 $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old turf fillies.
Favorites are just 1-for-8 in the QE2 Cup since 2006, but no winner has been over 11/1. It’s been a steady diet of fillies right around the 6/1 average. Stylistically, those 8 runnings have been won by 4 presser/stalker types, 3 deep closers and 1 front-runner. All 8 winners exited a turf prep a 1 mile or 1-1/8 miles. The winners have been spread nicely among 3 NYRA invaders, 2 each from Arlington and Del Mar, and the rare Keeneland run-back of Together in 2011 who had run a week prior in the G1 First Lady.
Personal Diary is sired by City Zip, proud papa of 2012 QE2 winner and Keeneland turf stalwart Dayathespa. And if you like pedigrees, Crown Queen is half-sister to the superstar distaffer Royal Delta.
Chad Brown won this race 2 years ago with Dayatthespa and has a couple of chances with Minorette and Ball Dancing. The latter should offer more attractive odds, despite facing tougher in Europe and showing a dynamic late move with no pace help in the Sands Point at Saratoga. I’ll take my chances with Ball Dancing on top and Daring Dancer, Crown Queen and speedster Sea Queen the best shots to hold for the bottom of the exacta.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.