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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 Thursday, October 17, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The veterans return for the Grade 3 Sycamore at 1-1/2 miles on turf, and it’s a familiar cast of horses we’ve grown fond of over the years. Does the 9-year-old Rahystrada have another big race in him? Or, might we be looking at a newcomer to the division like Najjaar or Temeraine to take the torch?
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Weather: Continued soggy conditions are possible as the midweek progresses with a 30 percent chance of rain once again. 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 extends maiden claiming runners to the distance test of 1-1/8 miles. Typically we see only 1 or 2 such races per Fall Meet. Two themes evolved in those limited dates and that’s the New York shippers have done well, and when they’ve been beaten, it’s been by horses running back second time at the meet at Keeneland, what I call “run-backs.” If you add one and one, you get Tiu, who appears a standout here on a repeat bid at the meet after coming in from New York. Short-priced favorite likely and one very tough to beat. There are some wonderful 9F pedigrees here like Net Profit and Teleconference that could help round out the exotics.
The claimers hit the rare air of the $50,000 upper level in Race 2 when they route 1-1/16 miles on the Polytrack. At this level you’re basically talking about allowance horses who have run out of conditions in many cases but aren’t quite the stakes caliber. Arlington shippers have been outstanding at this level in past Fall Meets and Mish Mosh wired a sprint at this class level in from AP already at the meet. Give extra kudos to Achaemenes on that note. Horses exiting a route prep have the edge nearly 4-to-1 over those exiting sprint preps when going this distance and class over the surface, so lean to those with a prep at a mile or longer. Southern Parkway on the class drop has a touch of class about her and could fit at this level for Rusty Arnold.
Early speed traditionally plays strong in “non-winners of 2 lifetime” sprints on the Polytrack like we see in Race 3. Don’t be afraid of a price as the average winner in 21 such events in past Fall Meets has been a whopping 9-1 odds and favorites are just 4-for-21. Meanwhile, 16 of 21 exited sprint preps and only 4 prepped on dirt. Gone Turbo should show more early foot adding blinkers while Nowthatsalady had a breakout win last time with good early foot from Arlington.
Race 4 is a very competitive turf route allowance with multiple question marks from a handicapping standpoint. Will Motor City like turf; is Kalamos ready to go after a 1-1/2 year break; how will Monastic fit at Keeneland in allowance company after two past turf stakes disappointments? Turf route allowances historically have been havens for the NYRA shippers here, but this meet it’s been anyone’s ballgame on the grass. While Overwhelming and State Flag once would have been my lean, I’m not so sure they hold the cards over this group. Stick with those who prepped on turf as 27 of the last 32 9-furlong Fall Meet turf races have gone to that group. Keep that in mind as you look at Race 6 as well, a split division of this very popular race at the entry box. Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy will garner plenty of attention in the Race 6 division after a sharp turf allowance win at Saratoga this summer and subsequent stakes bid. He looks well-placed for a Ken McPeek barn expected to heat up the final 2 weeks of the meet.
Two-year-old maiden special weight runners sprint in Race 5 and we’ve already had a dozen of these races in the first two weeks of the meet at various distances and surfaces. One thing is for sure, the scene has changed with advent of the Churchill Downs meet in September. Before, it was Saratoga or first-time starters aimed at these Kee MSWs who succeeded. Now, a lot of very good juveniles have experience under the Twin Spires by now. Favorites are 5-for-7 in 2YO MSWs on the Poly this meet with those 5 winners all 2-1 or less. The public remains dialed in. The 7 winners include 3 Churchill preppers, 2 Saratoga and 2 first-time starters. Based on what we see on paper in Race 5, first-time starters would seem to have a very good shot given the mediocre performances posted to date by this field. Pretty Syrie could be the best of the rookie class here based on pedigree, works and perceived intent. Watch the pre-race appearances and toteboard in this one.
Race 7 is an entry level allowance on the Polytrack and drew another big field we’re accustomed to at Keeneland. Consider the turf-to-Polytrack surface change here as 17 of 31 prior Fall Meet races at this class/distance have been won in that fashion, including Sense to Compete off the Monmouth grass earlier this meeting. Graham Motion owns 4 wins in these N1X route allowances in Fall Meets, tied with Bill Mott for most all-time, and has knocked on the door a few times in tough beats at the meet. Look for Autobahn Legend to be well meant in this spot. Bogart return to Keeneland for the first time since breaking his maiden here last Fall. His time for that 6-1/2 furlong MSW was the second-fastest of the meet for 2YOs from 6 offered. Pick of the Litter was a very good third here in the G3 Lexington in the Spring Meet and factors big-time.
Race 9 is a $16,000 claiming sprint and we’ve seen 3 of the first 5 claiming sprints for $20k or less this meet won by horses coming in from Presque Isle Downs. Last Fall, Kentucky Downs preppers were particularly effective at this class/distance. Serving Time might be able to hold serve for the KD crowd against a bevy of PID shippers here in a very tough race. Serving Time owns 2 wins locally, including this exact spot a year ago in the ’12 Fall Meet. You don’t want a horse too far back early as the average winner here is about 1-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Some of the top turf marathoners in the game battle in the Race 8 main event, the Grade 3 $100,000 Sycamore Stakes. The Sycamore proves that it’s never too late on a few fronts.
First, veterans have been prevalent in this race and you can never get too old to be a turf marathoner it seems. Horses like Cloudy’s Knight and Brass Hat have won this race well into their twilight. Second, it’s never too late to get up and win this race. Amazingly, the last 4 winners of this race on turf have closed from more than 11 lengths back after the opening half-mile – an average of 17-3/4 lengths back at that point! Turf preps at 1-3/8 miles or longer are preferred in the Sycamore with 5 of the last 7 winners boasting that kind of stamina rehearsal.
While I respect Graham Motion and Shug McGaughey maybe more than likely any trainers in America, I’ve never been a fan of running two horses in a stakes race. It’s kind of like saying you don’t have one super one, so two will do. I thought Olympic Thunder ran a game race in defeat in the Kentucky Turf Cup and that’s been a pretty key prep here in recent years. I’ll take him as the key and mix in both Motion runners underneath, Nutello and Eagle Poise.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.