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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.
Keeneland Keys for Sunday, April 7, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The all-time leader in Polytrack victories, New Believer, seeks a ninth local score in Race 2. And the intriguing card continues its early theme of interest in Race 3 when last year’s Grade 1 Ashland winner Karlovy Vary tackles a tough allowance cast that includes Hungry Island, who makes her first start since a third-place finish in last fall’s Grade 1 First Lady Stakes.
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Weather: Afternoon showers are in the forecast for Sunday so keep an eye on the weather and course conditions. Temperatures are forecasted in the low 60s. 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: In this section, we’ll get race and horse specific to help your handicapping. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 is a maiden claiming sprint, and these races historically have produced an average winner of nearly 9/1 odds, so don’t be shy about a price chance. First-time starters have won 13 of 50 maiden claiming sprints during Spring Meets on Polytrack. Note only 9 winners prepped on turf and transitioned over to the Polytrack. From a pedigree standpoint, two sons of top Poly sprint sire Distorted Humor must be respected, Strong Humor and Distortionist, the former likely to offer the bigger price. The first-timer worth noting also has a strong Poly sprint influence, Fast Flying Girl, sired by Sky Mesa.
The Fair Grounds shippers have done very well in mid-level claiming sprints at Keeneland in the Polytrack era and that’s where I’ll look in Race 2 if the Poly-machine New Believer is to be beaten. With an 8-for-10 record on the Keeneland Polytrack, New Believer has won more races on this surface than any other horse. But a caveat: he was beaten at 4/5 odds here last Spring Meet coming off a similar layoff. I’ll swing against him with Mr. Prankster, a Poly stakes winner at age 3 who has come back to hand this winter at Fair Grounds for a Mike Maker barn that came out swinging here opening weekend. Of the 13 claiming sprints on Polytrack at this $25,000 level in past spring meets, only 2 winners were making their first starts of the year, so maybe New Believer can be topped. For a price, Stormy Going was awfully good here in the Fall of 2011 and his last effort was a hint that he may be coming back to form.
We’ll call Race 3 the feature race today and that will be covered later.
Race 4 should be all about Pablo Del Monte, a Wesley Ward-trained son with a Keeneland Polytrack pedigree for the ages. He’s be super-sire Giant’s Causeway, which doesn’t scream 4-1/2 furlong sprint, but, oh, what a dam! His mama One Hot Wish set the track record here with a blistering 48.87 performance in 2007 that may never be topped. Note that 51 of 54 all-time baby dash races here in the Spring Meets on Poly saw the winner with a local Keeneland workout most recently. Always factor that angle in. Don Suave appears second-best on drills.
The turf-to-Polytrack surface change long has been a staple of route allowances at Keeneland, and 33 of the 59 Spring Meet Poly route allowances all-time have been won by such turf-prepped horses. Keep that in mind as you look at Race 5, where Villandry not only is a course winner here last fall, but also a horse well-versed on the turf. The Charlie Lopresti-Julien Leparoux tandem and rail draw make this one too tough to look past. And if you’re worried about the layoff, note that 13 times in those 59 aforementioned Poly route allowances that the winner was making his or her first start of the calendar year. Space Race, coming off the Gulfstream turf, would fit the profile of a successful Poly route allowance performer and trainer Michael Matz is one of the top route conditioners on this surface historically.
Races 6 and 8 are turf allowances, and two factors stand out on the stats. More than 75 percent of all Spring Meet turf allowance winners since 2007 (120 races) have been horses who prepped last time out on turf. And, Gulfstream-prepped horses have won 55 times in these situations with the next-closest circuit to produce winners being Fair Grounds with … get this … 9 wins. So you want a horse coming off the turf at Gulfstream if it looks anywhere near competitive, and that’s certainly the case with Political Courage in Race 6, the only GP grass raider and coming off wins in two of his last three while making a mild class rise. It could be a good day for Michael Matz, who appears to have a few live wires. And to take the importance of a turf prep even further, at this 1-1/8 miles turf allowance situation in Race 6, 25 of 29 winners prepped on grass. Now while Political Courage is the only GP prepper last time out, consider this stat to be a signal of regional dominance as much as a specific surface-to-surface thing. That said, Grandstand and Forecon both were successful Gulfstream runners this winter who just happened to ship to Tampa for their most-recent starts. I would consider them very dangerous here and fit the form you’re looking for. As for the Race 8 turf allowance, four horses coming out of the same Gulfstream turf race March 3 that was a total mess in terms of traffic. When races are cloudy and common opponents rematch, I look for a fresh face. That should be Gustavia, who also exits strong runs on the GP lawn over the winter. Also keep tabs on Lori’s Store, whose trainer Tom Proctor’s last 9 wins at Keeneland include 7 turf wins (6 in turf allowances).
Maiden special weight sprinters go the tough 7-furlong distance in Race 7. Once again, Michael Matz may be in a good spot to score. He debuts No Gravity, and note Matz has won six times in Spring Meets with 3-year-old MSW sprinters on the Polytrack, tied with Rusty Arnold for the most all-time. But first-time starters aren’t necessarily Matz’s bag, and firsters have won 19 of 111 of these MSWs for the sophomores in past Spring Meets. The lean is to experience, and that goes to To The Stars, a well-bred horse who should like the Poly on pedigree and past running lines for Ian Wilkes. That trainer’s most successful profile is maiden breakers in sprint races coming out of Gulfstream preps, exactly what we have here. It should be graduation day for To The Stars. Pedigree notes go to Premium Rally, who’s sire Empire Maker has been exceptional with these older maidens on the Polytrack, and Hey Leroy, who is bred to love the surface and ran well here last fall. Note that Fire Flight, who comes in from Texas for D. Wayne Lukas, is younger brother to last year’s Haskell winter Paytner – but his form looks nothing like his bro.
Sunday’s Race 9 finale is a low-end $10,000 claiming route at 1-1/8 miles on Polytrack. You’d expect cheaper horses at a distance to be tough to trust, but historically these races have produced an average winner of 9/2 odds, much lower than the overall Polytrack average that hovers between 6/1 and 7/1. The layoffs are the stat/angle of interest here. Morning line favorites Midnight Mischief and Murphys Covert both have been away since last fall, and note the last 10 Spring Meet claiming route winners at this cheaper level had all prepped sometime in the month of March. Add in posts 10 and 12 for the favorites and you see that they are vulnerable. Don’t expect a bomber, but try to beat them with horse who has run recently at Turfway and is in good form. Southern Joy fits that bill perfectly for Mike Maker, and he’s won more claiming route races at Keeneland on the Poly than any other trainer. Christmas Punch at 12-1 in the line also adds appeal and value.
Feature Race Play: Race 3 is a turf mile allowance and historically this class and distance has been a fantastic place for classy horses to win their seasonal returns from layoffs the previous fall. No surprise that four of the six classy distaffers in this race will follow that path. With short fields of six or fewer in turf miles at Keeneland since Fall 2006, the average opening half-mile split is just 48.58 seconds. Short fields on turf tend to go slow early and the pace edge here could be to speedy Karlovy Vary or the presser Exclusive Love. Obviously the class of Hungry Island warrants a ton of respect for a Shug McGaughey barn that’s been exceptional on turf at Keeneland in recent meets. The X-factor is French import Dream Clover, but note since Fall 2006 only 3 of 103 turf miles at Keeneland have been won by foreign-prepped horses in their first start here.
I’ll take my shots with the pace-advantaged Karlovy Vary and Exclusive Love, preferring the latter. I’ll use those two in the multi-race pools hoping for a minor upset and examine the win pool odds for value. Certainly Hungry Island must be considered for exactas.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.