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 21 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, creator 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 Sunday, April 12, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf dazzler Lady Eli brings her perfect record to Keeneland for the first when she headlines the G3 $125,000 Appalachian Stakes. The seasonal return for the Eclipse Award finalist shares the marquee with the G2 $250,000 Beaumont Stakes, which once again brings some west coast flair to Lexington.
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Weather: A perfect day with sunny skies, temps in the upper 70s and a 0% chance of rain is in the forecast!
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to help you unearth the trends. 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 is a starter allowance with an important riding assignment point. As noted prior to Friday’s easy win in the finale by Northern Borealis, nearly all of high-percentage trainer Tom Drury’s Keeneland success comes with Brian Hernandez aboard. So while Drury has Smoking Romance in the opener, notice that Hernandez instead rides Magical Moment, fresh off a big win at Fair Grounds. The FG set has been as good as I’ve ever seen it during a Kee Spring Meet and this one merits following as the favorite.
A small field of 6 allowance runners matches up in Race 2 on the turf. Two-thirds of Keeneland turf routes with fields of 6 or more are won by horses less than 3 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile (average 1.7 lengths behind compared to a whopping 3.9 lengths behind for turf routes of ALL field sizes). Point is, short fields mean you have to be in the bunch on turf. They’re not going to string out for closers. I picked Watchyourownbobber to upset the G2 Spiral at 28-1 odds before he set too quick of a pace and wilted. Certainly this field and trip should suit him better. Sire Candy Ride had offspring win 1-1/16 miles turf tilts at Keeneland during the 2014 Spring and Fall meets and sends out Nun the Less and Candy Charger.
Race 3 is for open $25,000 claimers at 6 furlongs. These races historically have been strongholds for the Fair Grounds crew. Infinity of Humor, Gracee Goo and Ms Hoochie Coochie exit the FG preps. Heading into Saturday, 7 races had been run at the meet at 6 furlongs -- and 6 of the 7 winners were on the lead or within a head after the opening half-mile. Five of the 7 exited preps at 6 furlongs or shorter and none were turning back from a route prep. That puts Ms Hoochie Coochie and Gracee Goo squarely in the profile. Tough Business is by sire Harlan’s Holiday, and all of his offspring deserve a long look since the return of dirt at Keeneland. They’ve been live.
Maiden claiming routers go 1-1/16 miles in Race 4. Of the 10 MCL routes on dirt since the track reinstallation in the Fall, 7 of those 10 winners were within 2-1/4 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile – including both held so far early this Spring Meet. Trainers Mark Casse and Todd Pletcher both have twice dropped horses in for MCL on the new Kee dirt for wins and they have Star of Sky and Cosmo Blue entered. 8 of 10 exited route preps and only 2 of 10 made turf-to-dirt changes successfully.
All eyes in Race 5 will be on the scintillating Lady Eli, whose turn of foot at age 2 was remarkable. The G3 Appalachian Stakes has been a formful affair with 7 of the last 8 winners at 5/1 or less, including 5 straight. Twice in the last 4 years – with Winter Memories and then Daring Dancer last year – the Appalachian winner was making her first start of the year. That’s good news for Lady Eli fans. Turf miles also historically are very strong spots for those coming off a winter break at Keeneland. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf runner-up Sunset Glow also comes off that break since their Santa Anita showdown on Halloween day.
Race 6 is a MSW for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs. Favorites are 5-for-6 at the meet in 3YO MSWs and no winner has been over 4/1. Going back to the dirt reinstallation last fall, shockingly only 3 of 36 races at 7 furlongs have been won by the half-mile leader. Only one-third of them were even within a length at that stage. The average winner has been more than 2-1/2 lengths back with 3 furlongs to run. About half (16 of 36) were cutting back in distance, including 12 of 36 going from 2-turn preps to 1 turn. Lemon Drop Title exits a Fair Grounds Feb. 21 race that’s already been “key” at the meet. Winner Yockey’s Warrior return to run second in a strong allowance heat, while fourth-place finisher How About Him came back to run a dynamite maiden breaker here on Wednesday. Money Changer exits a third to Donworth, who was entered back in Saturday’s G3 Lexington Stakes.
Three-year-old maiden special weight turf routers fill the playbill in Race 7. We’ve had 22 such races here in Spring Meets since 2011 and they’ve averaged 11.3 starters per race. We have another popular, capacity lineup of 12 with 2 also-eligibles to make a great betting race. Michael Matz won similar events here in 2012 and 2013 Spring Meets with Gulfstream preppers and aims again with Mistaken Love and Lady Dyna, an uncoupled entry. Gulfstream-prepped horses have accounted for 11 of the 22 winners – no other circuit more than 2 wins. Also, 18 of 22 were coming out of 2-turn preps.
Another capacity turf field wraps the card in Race 9 at 1-1/16 miles for older allowance runners. Gulfstream preppers have dominated these second-level turf allowances at Spring Meets since 2007, winning 14 of 20 held – six other circuits have 1 win each. Nisharora, Finn’s Jewel, Costenia, She’s Not Here and Secret Someone are the GP raiders. Todd Pletcher and Javier Castellano each have rung the bell twice on turf at the young meet heading into the weekend, and they team up with Costenia, who was a solid second over this course during the Fall Meet.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Californians have shipped east to win the G2 Beaumont 3 times in the last 5 years and 4 times in 7 years. So when Bob Baffert sends morning line favorite Fantastic Style in for Sunday’s Race 8 feature, we’d better take notice. And if there’s any doubt she’ll like the Keeneland surface, her sire Harlan’s Holiday has been the top producer of victories here since the dirt installation. The suddenly relevant sire also has Harlan’s Destiny in the field for a Wayne Catalano barn that unleashed a very impressive debut winner here Thursday.
Trainer Larry Jones and jockey Kerwin Clark already have teamed this meet to win the G1 Ashland for the 3-year-old filly routers. They’ll go for the sprint counterpart when Divine Dawn returns to the scene of her debut win in October. Her time that day was exactly on par for the 6 juvenile MSWs at the distance during the first meet back on dirt.
Going back to the dirt reinstallation last fall, shockingly only 3 of 36 races at 7 furlongs have been won by the half-mile leader. Only one-third of them were even within a length at that stage. The average winner has been more than 2-1/2 lengths back with 3 furlongs to run. About half (16 of 36) were cutting back in distance, including 12 of 36 going from 2-turn preps to 1 turn.
I’ll take the Harlan’s Destiny on the cutback and close to nip the fleet west coaster Fantastic Style in what could be an all-Harlan’s Holiday exacta in the Beaumont.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.