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 Wednesday, April 9, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Trainer Mark Casse, who saddled a week-best 4 winners during the opening 3 days, pairs up the duo of Sky Captain and Overtone in the day’s final two races. The card includes G2 Presque Isle Masters runner-up Purely Hot in a Race 5 starter allowance.
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Weather: Partly cloudy skies and 60 degrees are in the forecast. The turf course has taken a good amount of water in the past week or so and could be less-than-firm, so keep tabs on the 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 is the first maiden claiming route of the young season. In 30 previous Spring Meet MCL routes on the Polytrack, the average winner has been 3 lengths back after the opening half-mile and 8 of the races have been won by the leader at that call. Gulfstream shippers own a 14-4 edge over any other circuit in this category, with only 3 winners coming out of traditional sprints. Shakespearian Dream is the field’s only GP invader, exiting a turf prep, which holds a slight 14-10 edge over dirt preppers in this situation. After a huge 5-win blitz at the 2012 Spring Meet, trainer Andrew McKeever (Lady Ellemarie) came back to earth last Spring with a single score.
Race 2 is for $30,000 claiming sprinters on the Polytrack. Two similar offerings opening weekend were totally dominated by Gulfstream raiders Atasheen and Dissension. Both were cutting back from Gulfstream turf races around 2 turns, the same pattern we see with She’s Coal Fired in this spot. Traditionally Fair Grounds horses are solid in these kind of mid to upper-level claiming sprints, so respect Dramatize and and Something Blue, the latter shortening the trip for Bernie Flint. Note Flint does not run many on synthetics as it’s not his preference, so when he brings one to Keeneland, it’s typically for good reason and worth watching.
Race 3 is a claiming route on the main track at the long 1-1/8 miles trip. Note that opening weekend’s 5 claiming routes were won by 5 different circuits: TP, GP, Tam, Pen, OP – and they prepped on all surfaces. No one wins more claiming routes on the Poly than all-time leader Mike Maker and he aims for a second of the meet with State Flag. Fair Grounds shippers have won half of the 8 all-time Spring Meet Poly route claimers at the $25-$50k levels. Flaker, Foolhardy and Dynamical all exit preps at FG. Angel Montano, trainer of Foolhardy, won a similar event at the class/distance here in the 2010 Spring Meet with a Fair Grounds shipper. A very intriguing pedigree play may be Newfound Zapper, whose sire Ghostzapper was responsible for 9-furlong Keeneland winners Stately Victor (G1 Blue Grass) and Mystical Star (2x allowance winner here at the distance in 2011, 2012 Springs).
Race 4 is the boys’ version of today’s first race, a maiden claiming route at 1-1/16 miles. If the GP horses maintain their edge as noted above, it will come via Kerry Washington, Four More, Rico Rolando or Spa City Treasure. Four More’s running lines in Florida include a match-up with graded stakes winner Vinceremos, one of the leading contenders for this Saturday’s G1 Blue Grass. Kerry Washington goes for the Desormeaux-Hess team that’s been potent at Keeneland over the years and notched a sharp victory opening weekend. Of Hess’ 13 winners at Keeneland since 2007, Desormeaux has ridden 11 of them. But note only 3 of those 13 Hess winners came in routes. Golden Shiner warrants a look on pedigree and connections.
Heavy favorites tend to dominate the starter allowance races nationally and at Keeneland, and Race 5 may be no exception. Favorites won 5 of 7 starters here last Spring (average 8-5) and Sunday’s starter allowance went to 3-5 stakes dropper Expecting Cash with ease. Look for Purely Hot to be similarly well bet and formidable after several strong G2 sprint tries last fall, including a fourth over this track in the G2 Thoroughbred Club of America. If looking for the underneath key, consider early speed – which does very well in 6F starter allowances historically – to hold for a share. This clearly looks like a single in the pick four and pick five.
Race 6 is the day’s first turf of 2 turf tests, and note jockey Joe Rocco Jr. essentially wired 3 of the 4 turf offerings opening weekend. He’ll be aboard Part in Race 6, who has some early foot. All 4 turf races opening weekend were won by horses forwardly placed – none more than 1 ¼ lengths behind after the opening ½ mile. Gulfstream shippers won 3 of the 4 offerings to open the stand, and traditionally win about 50 percent of all grass races at the meet. Part and Angry Moon are the only GP runners involved surprisingly. Can Rocco roll them again? Spring Meet turf miles traditionally are a very strong place to look for horses making their first start of the year, so Heart to Heart merits a long look under Julien Leparoux, whose 6 wins opening weekend topped all jockeys.
The Race 8 finale is for maiden special weights on the turf. The aforementioned turf speed merchant from opening weekend, Joe Rocco Jr. reappears here aboard Smart Ashley. Don’t be afraid of a big price here. In 17 Spring Meet MSWs on the turf since 2011, no less than 6 of them have been won by longshots 12-1 or more, including 25-1 head-scratcher My Afleet on opening weekend. Gulfstream shippers own 10 of the 17 scores – but that includes 8 different runners in the main body of this field.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Entry level allowance sprinters top the card in Race 7 today. Trainer Mark Casse looks for lightning to strike twice in a week as he returns Sky Captain. The barn won an fillies’ version of this distanced-allowance sprint Friday with Appreciating, who was making her first start of the year, and tries to do that again with Sky Captain. Both are by sire Sky Mesa.
Horses prepped on dirt have a solid 24-12 edge over those turf-prepped in these all-time Spring Meet entry-level allowance sprints. Those prepped in sprints hold a modest 26-18 edge over those turning back in distance.
Pedigree players note the exceptional Poly sprint sire Distorted Humor with Little Distorted. He makes his second start after a year layoff for Bill Mott.
I’m going to keep the Casse train rolling with Sky Captain at fair odds that should be around 4-1.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.