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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.
Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Wednesday, April 8, 2015
What to Watch for Today: The first full week of the season launches with a 9-race card heavy on the allowance competitors and deep with intrigue. Some of the opening-day races rained out late have been brought back to the menu today.
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Weather: Scattered thunderstorms with temperatures nearing 80 degrees are in the forecast. Keep tabs on the conditions and potential surface updates in what’s been a rainy start to the stand.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to help you unearth the trends. Most information is gleaned from the free Keeneland Handicapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp) that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!
We open the card in Race 1 with a 2-year-old baby dash at 4-1/2 furlongs. We used to get about 10 of these per meet, but last year only 4 and the past 3 Springs have averaged 6. Wesley Ward and Steve Asmussen historically have dominated these races with 24 and 11 wins, respectively, over the 64 offered since 2007. That’s more than half the wins, and good news for Bruised Orange and Love the Kitten (Ward) as well as Inthetrappe (Asmussen). One of the strongest angles has been the need for a local Keeneland work as 59 of 65 winners had a spin over the track in the a.m. prior. We’ll see if that’s still true after the change to dirt. Sire City Zip has had them ready early at Keeneland with his offspring winning baby races here in Spring ’08, ’11, ’13. So Bruised Orange with a Keeneland work, Ward and by City Zip has a lot going for her. The rail has been solid from this distance, winning 9 of 64 – only post 5 has more scores (12).
Race 2 is for $30,000 non-winners of 2 lifetime claimers. Fair Grounds, Gulfstream and Turfway shippers have evenly shared the wins in these lower N2L claimers since Spring ‘07. But if you look at just the last 2 Spring Meets, GP preppers own 6 of the 9 wins and Tony B flies solo from Florida into this affair. We haven’t had many races at this class and 7-furlong distance since ‘07, but those exiting sprint preps own 4 of the 5 wins. Ocean Alley ran second over this track for a tag in the fall, but note that Oct. 9 race was the second-slowest 6-1/2 furlongs of the meet from 14 races offered. Tony B’s local second at 6-1/2 furlongs ranked fourth-fastest of 14 for the stand. Pulpit’s Legacy also had a race over the track in the Fall and his 1-length loss Oct. 15 came in the fastest of 9 maiden claiming 6F races of the season (about 3 lengths faster than average for class/distance).
Race 3 is rescheduled from opening day’s shortened card. Veteran allowance campaigners route 1-1/16 miles in this classy bunch. About 30 percent of the Fall Meet races on dirt at this trip were won by horses coming out of sprint preps, so don’t feel as though it’s a disqualifier if you like one stretching out like A.P. Indian off the sharp comeback sprint. Certainly the percentages play to route preppers, but 30% in the minority is nothing to sneeze at. Rapscalliion aims for a third straight Keeneland meet victory (’14 Spring win on Polytrack, ’14 Fall win on sloppy dirt) for a Graham Motion barn that does very well with these deeper allowance conditions at Kee. We haven’t had a third-level allowance like this in Spring since 2007, so welcome back.
Bottom-level $10,000 claiming routers go to bat in Race 4. Turfway Park preppers won a whopping 58% of such Spring Meet races during the Polytrack era, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out on dirt. Route preps were essential in that time with 22 of 24 winners exiting a last race at a mile or longer. No less than 8 of the 11 entrants here exit a Turfway route prep, so the profile doesn’t help us limit much. Trainer Larry Lay upset a similar Fall Meet dirt bottom claiming route at 11/1 and has Bluemyumind entered Wednesday. Trainer Larry Holt has a pair entered in this race, Leak Hunter and Ephram S, but has not saddled a Keeneland winner during the length of our database (2006 Fall-present).
Turf allowance performers battle in Race 5, and note Gulfstream shippers have won 73 of 162 grass allowances in Spring Meets since 2007. Last Spring, they accounted for 10 of 20 turf allowances, so that’s the starting point. Clever Spirit, Maryanna Star, Peneleput, Zioty, Shrewsbury Park and Jester and Me all hail from GP preps. Only 7 of 162 races during that span have been won by Europeans making their US/Kee debuts, something well-backed horses like Radiator, Lahinch Classics and Eastern Belle will try to build upon. The Graham Motion-trained Eastern Belle may be the one to watch among the foreign legion as that barn has produced Euro invasions to win turf allowances during 2012 and 2013 Spring Meets at Keeneland. Eastern Belle also lures John Velazquez away from the Todd Pletcher-trained Zioty, worth noting.
Race 6 is for the 3YO maiden special weight sprinters at 6 furlongs. First-time starters traditionally hold their ground very well in these spots, winning 11 of the 30 such Spring offerings since ’07 (Gulfstream shippers 9x, no other circuit more than 2). Boone Station goes for a Kiaran McLaughlin barn that’s off to a hot start at the meet with 2 winners opening weekend. Only 1 Fair Grounds prepper has won a 3YO MSW at 6F during that span, and that came in 2009. How About Him’s 4th at Fair Grounds to Yockey’s Warrior doesn’t look as strong now after that runner came back to run second by 6 lengths Saturday as the favorite in his allowance return.
First-level allowance runners compete in Race 7 at 1-1/16 miles. Pramedya is by Harlan’s Holiday, whose 4 Fall Meet dirt winners were best of any sire, and he already rang the bell opening weekend with another dirt score (Saturday, Two Weeks Off, also in a N1X allowance). Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out Genre in search of his 15th Spring Meet entry-level allowance win at Keeneland since ’07, far and away most of any trainer. Trainer Michael Matz sends out a pair, Sing Lady Sing and Dreaming of Leah, both making their first starts of the year. Of Matz’s 21 Keeneland Spring wins since ’07, only 2 have come while making seasonal debuts.
Race 9 is a starter allowance at 7 furlongs on dirt. Greek Life will try to give Harlan’s Holiday another winner on the Kee dirt as 1 of 2 offspring entered on today’s card by that sire noted above. Trainer Mike Maker’s 6 Spring Meet starter allowance wins since ’07 are double that of any other trainer. This will be our 2nd starter allowance in 3 days of racing, and get used to them as we saw no less than 11 offered in Spring 2014. Of the 48 run during Spring Meets dating back to 2007, only 4 winners were above 6-1 odds and nothing over 11-1 – but opening day “bomber” Hey Cuz pushed the envelope at 5-1.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
We’ll consider Race 8 today’s feature on an allowance-laden card of depth. A big field of 11 has entered this second-level allowance at 1-1/16 miles on dirt and Top Billing has the marquee name that will take top billing with many bettors.
Jockey James Graham has won 10 races at this 1-1/16 miles main track trip in fields of 11 or more at Keeneland since Fall ’06. He’s negotiated field size and the configuration exceptionally well (only Julien Leparoux and Robby Albarado have more wins in this situation, but neither rides Race 8). Graham partners with Embellishing Bob.
Tiznow’s 3 dirt winners during Fall 2014 were second-most of any sire and his son Seal Six competes Wednesday. Full-brother Bill of Rights was a winner here last fall, so perhaps he’ll handle a fast track better than he did in his fall slop appearance when fading.
This is one spot where the Oaklawn horses might merit an extra look. We had 2 advanced-level allowance winners on the main routing from Oaklawn during the 2014 Spring Meet, which puts Texas Two Step and Noble Bird into the discussion. Texas Two Step’s 6-furlong win here in the Fall was 8th-fastest of 34 at the meet.
I like the hot pace likely to set up for Top Billing, so we’ll use him with Embellishing Bob and the Oaklawn raiders Texas Two Step and Noble Bird.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.