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 Saturday, April 5, 2014
What to Watch for Today: The meet’s first Grade 1 – the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland – tops a fantastic card that includes baby races, elite national older turf males, allowances galore and more. Trainers Mark Casse and Graham Motion opened the meet Friday with runners ready to roll!
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live blog/chat 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: Sunny skies on a crisp day, temperatures in the upper 50s, are forecasted for day 2 of the meet, gladly taken after a damp weekday run of weather. Winds are projected to be lighter as well.
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 presents the meet’s first 2-year-old baby dash at 4-1/2 furlongs. Trainer Wesley Ward has won 12 of the 22 such races offered over the past 3 Spring Meets combined, so you have to start with his dual-action here of Climb In Back and Time Out of Mind. Both have that all-important local work that dominates these 2YO races – with Climb In Back earning a bullet drill locally and likely the stronger half with Dylan Davis named to ride. The filly gets in light at 110 pounds. Trainer Mark Casse sends out two as well, both sired by Sky Mesa in Sky Racer and Skyway. Casse had the Sky Mesa 2YO winner last Spring named Sky America score at 4-1.
Claiming routers compete in Race 2, and this class and distance situation has been Mike Maker country in recent years. His Keeneland-loving entrant Horned Frog figures to be the one to beat if the barn has him corrected after failing to finish at Gulfstream last time. Maker has won 30 claiming routes on the Polytrack at Keeneland – no one else has more than 8 (Kenny McPeek). Horses coming off of dirt preps wins only about 15% of these 9-furlong claimers on the Poly, so lean toward turf/synthetic preppers if looking for an alternative to the Maker favorite.
Maiden claimers sprint the tricky 7-furlong distance in Race 3. The average winner in 23 past such Spring Meet races has been nearly 3 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Only 5 of those 23 races were won by the half-mile leader. 15 of 23 were shortening distance off their most recent prep. Trainer Ken McPeek owns a record 4 wins in this situation and saddles Money Fan.
Races 4 and 6 are for 3-year-old maiden special weights and a popular event at Keeneland. To date, 122 have been presented to this point in the Poly era in Spring Meets. Gulfstream shippers dominate – winning 47 times – easily most of any circuit. First-time starters are next with 23, followed by Fair Grounds at 17. Last Spring, GP and first-timers accounted for 9 of the 11 offered. State Visit, Southern Honey and Boom Boom Vroon bring the heat from Florida in the Race 4 offering. As for Race 6, Hunting Hill, Summer Camp and Creative Spirit come in from Gulfstream. Sire Hard Spun had 3 winners at the 2013 Spring Meet, all young sprinters, including a 3YO MSW sprint upsetter Olympic Avenue at 8-1. He’s represented by both Thread Bare and Hunting Hill in this spot Saturday.
Race 5 is a turf route allowance that could be a Grade 1 stakes race anywhere else in the country and no one would blink. What a race! We had a similar conditioned allowance last Spring won by Shug McGaughey’s Hungry Island, furthering the class point to this type of race. Shug takes another swing with Tricky Hat this time, while his former charge Boisterous – winner of the G1 Man o’ War in New York, makes his second start since changing barns to Todd Pletcher. Gulfstream-prepped runners have won 16 of 34 Spring Meet turf allowances at this 9-furlong trip since 2007. That’s good news for Boisterous, Unbridled Ocean and Sky Blazer. Last year’s 5 such races offered saw 3 horses win in their first starts of the calendar year and the other 2 hail from Gulfstream. McGaughey was won more Kee turf allowances (10) in Spring Meets since 2007 than any other trainer, though Bill Mott (Unbridled Ocean) and Roger Attfield (Forte Dei Marmi) are nipping at his heels with 9 apiece.
Second-level allowance sprinters try 7 furlongs in Race 7. We get very few of these races at Keeneland this time of year, just 2 apiece in the 2007 and 2008 Spring Meets. Dirt-prepped horses hold a solid 23-16-10 edge over turf and synthetic-prepped rivals in all 7F Spring Meet allowances in the Poly era. Meanwhile, 27 of 49 winners were horses turning back in distance from a mile or more. With many horses in this racing making their first start of the year, note that 15 of 49 Spring 7F allowances have been won by horses debuting on the year – so roughly 70 percent of winners had a seasonal prep prior. Four runners in this race have won their only local attempts, so something has to give – this could be the toughest race on the card.
You can relay some of that same info to Race 8, another 7-furlong allowance sprint, this one a first-level heat. Again, dirt-prepped and route-prepped are the way to lean with 7 of the last 11 winners in first-level 7F spring allowances having either prepped on dirt or a route. Jet Cat might fit very interestingly here exiting stakes at Oaklawn, as would come-backing Clovelly. Myositis Dan ran more than 4 lengths faster than par for 2YOs going 6-1/2 furlongs when he was his maiden event here in October at 16-1. He’s a potential horse for course.
The Saturday action concludes with a Race 10 turf route allowance at 1-3/16 miles. Gulfstream-prepped runners have won 8 of the last 10 Spring Meet offerings at this course/distance. We’ve got 6 to choose from in the finale, however. Sire Giant’s Causeway has had a 1-3/16 miles Keeneland Spring turf winner each of the past 2 seasons and his daughter Glorious Chant was one of those a year ago. She comes back to Keeneland “second-off-the-layoff” from Gulfstream – a strong angle. The Keeneland turf route all-star trainers all are involved here with McGaughey, Attfield, Mott and Motion. Horses coming off Payson Park training have done well on the Keeneland route circuit over the years, giving Satisfaction perhaps a leg up in a very tough heat.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Six straight wire-to-wire winners of the G1 Ashland have continued to befuddle the public as we look at Saturday’s main event. At odds of 16-1, 24-1, 5-1, 48-1, 15-1 and 6-1, it shows that trusting the pace factor has proven dicey for bettors. So are we in store for another wire-to-wire job in this year’s Ashland?
The average first half-mile in those 6 heists has been 48.56 as the leader has been able to back up the fractions. Judging on paper this field of 13 and the amount of speed-intended fillies in the lineup, anyone who wins the Ashland up front will have run the competition off their feet. Arguably 6 or 7 different fillies could make a case for the early lead. Rail-drawn Istandford likely will be hustled given her post and will have to be to keep position.
Only 1 of 7 Ashland winners in the Poly era prepped last on turf. If you want to hang your hat on that fact, then 9 of the 13 runners in this field would be bucking the stat. Only Thank You Marylou, Rosalind, Ireland and Saturday Bliss come off of non-turf final preps. No Ashland winner has stretched out from route-to-sprint – which could undo Thank You Marylou. Meanwhile, Ireland has been totally overmatched outside a maiden win and Saturday Bliss yet has ventured outside New York-bred races. Perhaps that leaves Rosalind as the best option standing, and her runner-up here in the Alcibiades last year behind a freakish My Conquestadory was awfully good.
Making her second start off a layoff, it appears Kenny McPeek has the bullet-working Rosalind ready to roll. She’ll be my play to catch the speed finally in the Ashland – and I’d recommend wheeling the front-runners under her second for the exotics to hold on for a share. The late-flying Testa Rossi must be respected – but the short stretch run can certainly help the front-runners’ chances to fend off multiple late challengers.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.