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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.
Keeneland Keys for Wednesday, April 10, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Trainer Mike Maker, off to a blazing start opening weekend with five winners in three days, will send out starters in half of today’s truncated, eight-race card. Maker dominates the early pick four Wednesday with entrants in races two, three, four and later in the race eight finale. Track oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has the Maker entries at 3/1, 3/1, 12/1 and 9/2 on the afternoon.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat 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: Warm and breezy conditions are in store. Temperatures are forecasted into the low 80s with winds 15-20 mph. 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: As is our start-of-the-raceweek custom, the Wednesday edition will take a look back at the trends of last week. The regular race-by-race handicapping angles return Thursday through Sunday. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
We had 29 races over opening weekend of the 2013 Spring Meeting, 21 on the Polytrack and 8 on turf.
On the Polytrack, favorites were better-than-par for Keeneland by winning 8 of 21 races for a 38 percent success rate. The average Polytrack winner for the weekend was 5.5-to-1 odds. Compare those totals to the historical averages of 29 percent and 6.5-to-1 odds. Kudos to the public and for formful racing. The three main track winners to pay double-digit odds were 15-1, 15-1 and 16-1, more than acceptable price plays when you’re looking at 9.8 horses per race on average for the Polytrack during that span.
The Gulfstream shippers held a slight edge on the Polytrack with 6 wins, followed by 4 from Fair Grounds. Turfway raiders added two scores, the only other circuit in multiple wins. Nine-different last out locations plus a trio of first-time starters made up the 21 main track winners. You’ve gotta love the melting pot at Keeneland – it’s like no other track in America in that regard. Polytrack stalwart sires Distorted Humor and Giant’s Causeway each doubled up with wins on the weekend.
Owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker teamed up five times opening weekend in the winner’s circle, using jockeys Joel Rosario, Javier Castellano and Alan Garcia. Three were favorites and four of five were 7-to-2 odds or less on the toteboard.
Horses exiting dirt preps won 7 of the 16 Polytrack sprint races on the week, and the Poly sprints were very evenly distributed among all running styles. I counted the winners as 5-4-3-4 in terms of front-end speed, pressers, midpackers and deep closers in the 16 sprints. Two of the early speed front-runners were dominant baby dash winners at 4-1/2 furlongs. Of the limited five Polytrack routes we had last week, two were won in front-running fashion, including Emollient’s domination of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on Saturday.
Favorites went 4-for-8 on the turf opening weekend with no winner above 6-1 odds. That’s formful stuff with an average turf field size of 9.25 horses per race. Gulfstream shippers won 4 times, horses laid off since the previous year won three times. Shippers from the Fair Grounds, which struggled with its turf course conditions most of the recently concluded season, were shut out of the turf battles opening weekend. Six of the 8 winners on turf were within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile with only two deep closers winning. Graham Motion won two grass races, the only trainer to double up in the first three days.
Feature Race Play: Race 7 is the co-feature on the program along with a turf marathon allowance in Race 4. But for preview purposes, we’ll focus on Race 7, where entry level allowance runners square off in the 3-year-old ranks. A capacity field of 12 includes Triple Crown nominees War Dancer and Bold Challenger, an uncoupled duo from the Kenny McPeek barn.
We’ve already had three such N1X allowances on the turf this meet and two were won by hores making their first starts of the year. Those facts should keep highly regarded Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes runner-up Positively and Swyford Stakes runner-up Five Iron in our considerations even off extended holidays.
Historically, Gulfstream preppers have won 27 of 55 previous Spring Meet entry level turf allowances since 2007, and that puts the McPeek pair in the crosshairs off of winter work down south. War Dancer’s debut second to Jack Milton should look better and familiar to Keeneland fans who saw Jack Milton return here to win the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes on Friday. Bold Challenger exits a race in which Black Onyx and Crop Report returned to win the Grade 3 Spiral and Rushaway Stakes. Both “McPeekers” have kept fantastic company lines.
Given that neither Five Iron or Postively has tried the turf to date, it’s very notable that only 1 of the 55 aforementioned races in this class/meet/surface has been won by a horse making his or her first career turf attempt.
War Dancer will be the play for me to win, and I’ll use him over stablemate Bold Challenger and Michael Matz’s inconsistent but talented Fredericksburg in the exotics.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.