Expert Picks - Jeremy Plonk

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    Jeremy Plonk

    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 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.

    Saturday, October 10, 2015


    Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Saturday, October 10, 2015


    What to Watch for Today: The Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup matches top-class 3-year-old fillies on the turf in one of the meet’s most prestigious events. Sentiero Italia looks for her third straight graded stakes victory as the favorite for Lexington native Kiaran McLaughlin.


    Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live blog/chat at the Keeneland website ( – also available on your mobile devices – or on Twitter @Keeenelandracing, where I provide up-to-the-minute picks and analysis.


    Weather: A gorgeous day in the upper 60s is forecasted with a zero percent chance of rain. Look for fast track and firm turf conditions.


    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 ( that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!


    Races 1 and 2 are 6-furlong claiming sprints on the main track. So far this meet, 14 of 16 races at 6 furlongs have been won by horses within 3 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile and 13 of 16 by horses exiting a 1-turn sprint prep. Parx preppers have won 3 times at the meet, a strong showing, and Ambidextrous Alex ships in from there in Race 1. Trainer Chris Richard sends out favorite Control Stake, and note all 5 dirt Kee wins for Richard have come in sprints (4 with Corey Lanerie aboard). A key note about both Race 1 and Race 2 is that of the 15 Fall Meet claiming sprints at 6 furlongs held on the new dirt, only 1 winner has come off an extended layoff since June or longer like we see with Control Stake, Loud Cat and Ms Hoochie Coochie – a trio of horses who all will be well-backed in the early daily double.


    Claimers route 1-1/16 miles in Race 3, where it’s notable that the 15 Fall Meet claiming routes on the new surface have been won 7 times by Churchill Downs preppers. 13 of 15 were 4-1 or less, so don’t look for big bombs here. Bold Shot and Posture come in via CD races. Note trainer Ingrid Mason (Winkatdawat) has yet to win a route on the Kee dirt and even her once-powerful sprinters here last Fall have fallen ice cold to open this ’15 stand.


    Race 4 is a 2-year-old maiden claiming route on the main track. The 2YO maiden routes on the dirt this meet have been won 3 of 4 times by Churchill Downs September meet preppers who exited 1 mile or 1-1/16 miles races. First-time starters and stretch-out sprinters have struggled in this category on the new dirt surface so far. Smarty Kitten, Full Clip, Market Master and Sackett would seem good profile fits. Still worth noting until it changes, dominating Keeneland owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey continue to be shut out of the winner’s circle this meet through 6 complete cards, though Smarty Kitten appears capable of changing that. The Ramsey other half of the entry is Gateway Arch for trainer Joe Sharp, who had much success here on the new dirt surface in route races prior to going frigid this meeting.


    Older MSW sprinters battle in Race 5. Union Jackson is bred to win early by Curlin out of Hot Dixie Chick, winner of the Schuylerville and Spinaway early in her 2YO season. She is the first of several very live shots it would appear today for trainer Steve Asmussen – who remarkably still has but 1 win on the new Keeneland dirt after 2+ meets. Fresh horses have done well in these elder MSWs during the Fall (6 of 9 winners not having a prep run in September). First-time starters have been shut out of the 9 victories. Bow Tie Boss looks to give sire Candy Ride his 10th winner on the Keeneland dirt and add to his leading total as top producer over this surface.


    Race 6 is a turf allowance and note Saratoga preppers have won 6 of the first 11 grass races at this meeting (Kentucky Downs next up with 2). Conquest Panthera and Tennessee carry the torch for the Saratoga scene in this race. Three trainers have 2 turf wins at the meet and a couple of them square off here – Mark Casse (Conquest Panthera) and Ian Wilkes (Jubal). Casse’s grass victories came in stakes with Tepin (G1 First Lady) and Airoforce (G3 Bourbon). Wilkes’ scores came at juicy odds of 18-1 and 5-1. If you’re wondering about Tennessee’s ability to handle a turf route after dirt sprints at the Spa, keep in mind his sire Giant’s Causeway has 21 turf winners at Keeneland since Fall ’06, tied with Dynaformer for the most by any sire. Only 1 of the 11 turf winners so far this meet has gone dirt-to-turf, however.


    Maiden special weight 2-year-old sprinters clash in Race 6 over 6-1/2 furlongs. What a strong pedigree race this will be! Outstanding Kee dirt sire Speightstown – who had last year’s fastest 2YO of the meet Barbados, as well as local stars Speighster and Rock Fall – will be represented by both Holders Season and Banner Waving. Harlan’s Holiday, with 8 Kee dirt sprint winners (most of any sire going short), has J La Tache here. And then there’s Stageplay debuting for Steve Asmussen as a daughter of Curlin bred to win early. She’s half-sister to Mylute as well as 2YO Sapling winner She Digs Me. Carina Mia may be bred to go farther as a half-sister to G1 Santa Margarita winner Miss Matched, but her sire Malibu Moon did give us last Fall’s impressive Kee dirt winner Enchantress.


    Race 8 is a 1-1/8 miles dirt allowance. Of the 21 races held on the new dirt at this distance, a remarkable 9 have been won by horses exiting 1-turn preps on the stretchout. Bella Veloce, Lavender Chrissie, Dark Rain, Enchantress and Ciaran’s Prize make similar bids. Enchantress runs back on 8 days’ rest for Todd Pletcher and note he’s had 4 previous “run-backs” second time at the meet win at Keeneland (layoffs of 8, 14, 20 and 21 days). Enchantress tries to go sprint-to-route in the same meet as Pletcher pulled off with Winning Cause in 2013 when winning an allowance sprint and then stretching out to win the 1-1/16 miles Lexington Stakes. Pedigree-wise, note Make It Snappy could love this trip. Both his sire (Medaglia d’Oro) and damsire (AP Indy) have sired a pair of 9-furlong winners over the Kee dirt.


    Don’t be shocked to see a front-end heist of the Race 10 finale, a 1-1/8 miles maiden claiming test on the main track. Twice in 3 such races on the new dirt at this distance and class the winner went wire-to-wire, including Nancy Doll on Thursday at 6-1. And even when you factor in 1-1/16 miles MCL races, half of the 16 routes for this class level on this surface have been won on the engine. Bird Humor and Self Starter appear the most likely early pacemakers. The latter’s trainer Mike Matter has won a pair of MCL routes on the new dirt, as has Rusty Arnold (Kings Knight).


    Feature Race Play, courtesy of the BUZZ Report:


    Race 9 is the featured G1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Favorites have won just 2 of the last 9 editions of this race, and it’s been horseplayers' heaven with a high price of 11-1 and average winner just under 6-1. Four winners during that span shipped in from New York (Saratoga or Belmont), 2 from Del Mar and 2 from Arlington.


    Favoritism rightly goes to red-hot Sentiero Italia for Godolphin. She’s won 4 of her last 5 in New York and beat several of these in either the Sands Point or Lake Placid. New faces for her will be Feathered, the front-end speed here under Javier Castellano, who won this race in 2007 (Bit of Whimsy) and 2012 with wire job Dayatthespa; as well the Jim Cassidy-trained Prize Exhibit from California. She’ll try to follow Cassidy stable predecessor Ticker Tape, who won this race in 2004.


    European exports Olorda and Blonde Me each will try to win the QE2 in their second US starts. That worked well for Together in 2011, who also won this race “second-time US.”


    I have total respect for Sentiero Italia, but the effort in the G1 Yellow Ribbon vs. older fillies and mares by Prize Exhibit sways me in her favor at a mid-range price that has been the wheelhouse for the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup’s recent history.


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