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.
Keeneland Keys for Thursday, April 11, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Trainer Wesley Ward, Keeneland’s leading conditioner during both 2012 racing meets, looks to continue his perfect record this Spring Meet in 2-year-old races when he saddles the celebrity-named Tomei in Race 3. Ward already has scored twice with the babies this season on the strength of blowout winners Pablo Del Monte and Sweet Emma Rose.
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Weather: Severe weather expected overnight in Lexington and nearly 100 percent chance of rain on Thursday, so keep an eye on conditions – especially for races carded for the turf. 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 take a look at the card, race-by-race and any trends that could lead us to prosperity. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Maiden claimers open the card in Race 1 on Friday, and Gulfstream Park shippers have won 6 of the last 9 maiden claiming races offered at Keeneland Spring Meets, including 2 of the first 3 this season. That bodes well for favorites Ramsey Beach/Captain Hook (entry) and Next Speaker. Just 1-in-5 maiden claiming races in Spring Meets are won by first-time starters (15 of 75), so give the edge to experienced runners. Ramsey Beach and Nex Speaker both appear well-bred to handle the surface in their first tries.
Claiming routers go postward in Race 2, and this is a category where the Fair Grounds shippers have done very well, winning 18 times from 74 such Spring Meet races on Polytrack, second-most only to the 20 winners from Turfway preppers. But when you look at open-company claimers from the $20k-$50k range in routes, that edge goes to a 12-3 wide lead for the Fair Grounds set. O trainer has won more claiming routes on Keeneland’s Polytrack than Mike Maker, and it’s not even close. With Fair Grounds prepped Perfect Praise for Maker here, it appears a solid favorite to start the pick four. Joel Rosario started a red-hot raceweek on Wednesday and partners with what looks like a tap-in putt.
Race 3 also appears a very formful race on paper as Wesley Ward looks for his third baby race win of the meet with the entry of Tomei and Hearsay Special. Tomei, named for co-owner Joe Pesci’s actress pal Marissa Tomei, reportedly is one of the barn’s best and scratched earlier in the meet for this spot in a race her stablemate won easily. Sky America is a rare Mark Casse entrant on the Keeneland juvenile Spring Meet ranks, but by Sky Mesa should love the surface and Casse’s barn dominates the 2yo Polytrack scene at Woodbine. Keep in mind that 52 of 55 all-time Spring Meet baby race winners prepped at Keeneland in their final a.m. workout, and the favorites all fit that bill here. It’s a single or two-deep proposition for multi-race bettors.
Race 4 figures to be the best betting race on the front half of the Thursday card. Nine claimers route here in the “non-winners of 2 lifetime” condition. Gulfstream shippers have won the first two “N2L” claiming races of the 2013 Spring Meet, but this historically has been a pretty open society in terms of prep locales. Only 1 of 10 all-time “N2L” route claimers on the Poly in past Spring Meets has been won by a dirt-prepped horse, so 2-1 favorite Fast Bobbi J will try to buck that. However, her past Keeneland form is outstanding and I wouldn’t go overboard in confidently eliminating her chances. Horses route-prepped on turf or Polytrack have dominated these races, but that doesn’t help much in the elimination process here. Race 4 is not a trends race. From a pure handicapping standpoint, I give Delightful Magic a big chance in a tough race.
When handicapping Race 5, note that horses exiting dirt preps have own a 20-11-7 edge in entry-level allowance sprints on Polytrack during Spring Meets at Keeneland (compared to turf and synthetic preppers), including the first of this season won by dirt preppers at Hawthorne and Aqueduct. Dirt speed still matters in quality sprint races. Amy’s Outburst, Glamour Puss and Roku all appear capable on paper, bred well enough to handle the Polytrack transition and in possession of quality dirt speed. Trainer Mike Stidham of Roku has won similar class/distance races at Keeneland during the 2008, 2011 and 2012 Spring Meets at 41/1, 7/1 and 2/1 odds.
Maiden turf milers do battle in Race 6, where a big field of 12 is expected. We’ve only had 12 turf maidens in Spring Meets, which began in 2011, and Gulfstream-prepped horses own 7 of the 12 wins. Previous turf experience has not been a prerequisite as a surprising 5 of these 12 races have been won by horses who had never raced on grass previously (two were first-time starters). Sire Stormy Atlantic has been one of Keeneland’s unsung handicapping heroes in recent years as his offspring own a razor-sharp 9 local turf wins since the Fall ’06 meet, trailing only Giant’s Causeway and Dynaformer, much more heavily bet turf sires. Batten the Hatches, in from Gulfstream, is the Stormy Atlantic pedigree play to keep an eye on. Rusty Arnold’s 12 Keeneland turf wins during that span are notable with longshot Professor Midnight, including 3 grass maiden-breakers by the barn. Steve Asmussen, trainer of possible favorite Lemon Drop Dream, has won just 2 Keeneland turf races since Fall 2006, those coming in Fall 2007 and Spring 2010.
Race 7 is for mid-upper level claimers at the $40,000 level. Fair Grounds shippers have excelled in these high-end claiming ($40k and up) sprints during Keeneland Spring Meets, holding an 8-4 edge over Gulfstream runners in 28 such events to date. Pisgah Station appers well-placed after facing tough allowance company in New Orleans, freshened for the trip and a winner over the track here last Fall Meet to break her maiden. Her winning time was easily the fastest 7 furlong maiden claimer of the season and second-fastest maiden winner at the meet at any class level for the distance. One caveat: 9 of 13 Spring Meet winners at this tough 7-furlong distance for $40k claiming and above were horses shortening distance from their most recent prep. If you like Pisgah Station, and I do, the “turn-back” angle may still apply in exacta boxes or underneath horses, so consider Glowing Monarch, Whatthecatdrugin, longshot Adios Nardo and the blinkers-on duo of Strong Resolve and Haunted. A good race to reach into the trifecta/superfecta bag or just play to win.
The Race 9 finale matches maiden claimers at the tricky 7-furlong distance. It’s our first such look at this distance/clas of the 2013 Spring Meet. Three huge closers swept the trio of such offerings last Spring, all more than 5-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile (average nearly 7 lengths back with 3 furlongs to go). 11 of the 19 Spring Meet winners at the class/distance were horses shortening distance from their last prep. Keep an eye on David Carroll-trained Poliziano. Carroll’s Polytrack pattern is to break maidens here at Keeneland (9 of his last 10 winners here maiden breakers). This one’s bred to love the track, freshened off al ong break and should be coming late.
Feature Race Play: Thursday’s main event in Race 8 will be a 1-1/2 miles turf contest. Over the years, we’ve seen that true Keeneland turf marathoners who run well here often repeat that performance. We need to dial back only 24 hours to see Wednesday’s 12-furlong grass winner Beijoca for an example.
Belo Acteon proved himself on this course and distance last Spring when running a good third behind Point of Entry, who went on to become arguably America’s top two or three grass horses for the entire calendar year.
From a pedigree standpoint, this stat always surprises me when I filter back to it, but it’s fact. Super-sire Kitten’s Joy, considered by most a tremendous route influence on grass, has not wona single Keeneland turf race longer than 1-1/16 miles since our database began in Fall 2006, and only two races beyond the flat mile. That’s important when you consider Sneaky Kitten and Gung Ho should be highly played in this race.
Belo Acteon stands out to me with Keeneland-turf-ace trainer Shug McGaughey’s Reflecting the key underneath.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.