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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.
10 ‘DIRTY’ FACTS WE LEARNED ABOUT KEENELAND
The 2014 Fall Meet marked the return of natural dirt footing around the Keeneland oval, and here’s what we learned:
Despite the change to dirt, and lack of a Turfway September meet to offer Polytrack preppers, we still saw 45 of 110 winners on dirt last Fall Meet make surface changes from synthetic or turf preps (when you factor out first-time starters winning).
Tactical speed is a must going 6 furlongs. 29 of 35 races at this trip were won by horses within 2 lengths with a quarter-mile left to run, and the average winner at that stage was just ¾ of a length off the front.
It’s still hard to wire going 7 furlongs. The demanding sprint distance saw just 2 of 26 winners on the lead after the opening half-mile, while a third of the winners closed from more than 2 lengths back at that point (average winner was 2-1/4 lengths behind after a ½ mile).
Dirt routes were extremely fair. Exactly half of the 46 events were won by horses within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. The average winner was 3 lengths back at that stage of the race.
Keeneland works aren’t a prerequisite. Only 41 of 121 victors on dirt had posted a local workout immediately before visiting the winner’s circle.
Harlan’s Holiday was 1 of only 3 sires to have more than 2 dirt winners last fall, and his offspring rang the bell 4 times – all in sprint races. Both Candy Ride and Tiznow’s sons and daughters added 3.
Big upsets are few and far between. Only 4 of 121 dirt winners last fall were horses 20/1 or more on the toteboard. Further, 89% of the races were won by horses of single-digit odds.
Avoid cut-back horses going 6 and 6-1/2 furlongs. Only 3 of 49 winners at these distances were horses moving from a route to a sprint.
72% of all dirt route races were won by horses who exited route preps.
Julien Leparoux, patience and all, can still win on dirt. The once-dominant Polytrack rider scored 9 wins on the dirt last Fall (4 sprints/5 routes), none closer than 1-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and the average winner nearly 5 full lengths back at that stage.
Check out my daily stats blog free in this space each racing day with trends you can apply to each and every race of the meeting. And be sure to follow the free live streaming and chat each day with me and my Horse Player NOW teammates at http://www.keeneland.com/racing/racing-live-coverage.