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.
Keeneland Keys for Saturday, April 6, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The top finishers in last year’s Grade 1 Alcibiades re-match in a capacity field edition of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. If that’s not enough, there’s another Grade 1 race disguised as an open allowance in Race 4 that features some of the top turf horses to grace Keeneland each season.
The track played fair on opening day Friday and Mike Maker and Graham Motion appear to have their horses primed to run well right out of the box.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat 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: A gorgeous Spring Saturday is on tap with temps in the upper 60s and a zero percent chance of rain. Breezy conditions at 15-20 mph are worth watching the flags. (Flags to the left favor early speed horses at Keeneland with a backstretch tailwind). 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 kickstarts the Saturday action with a $16,000 claiming sprint in name only. This race looks much more like a $30,000 claimer or more based on the entrants. These races have been formful in the Polytrack era during Spring Meets as connections drop and pop at this level. Favorites are 6-for-14 at this class level in Spring Poly sprints and only one winner has been more than 9/1. Kingsford Drive and Goodtimehadbyall on the class drop appear most dangerous, and note the latter’s trainer Merrill Scherer has 14 career Keeneland claiming sprint victories on the Poly, second-most all-time to Wesley Ward’s 17.
Perhaps the most consistent class of horses in the Polytrack era have been high-level claimers like we see in Race 2. An amazing 15 straight winners at the $40,000 claiming level at Keeneland Spring Meets have gone off at 4/1 or less odds. The focus should be on favorites. Chalky Brink of War drops in class for owner Ken Ramsey after a troubled trip. He competed in one of the quicker 6-1/2 furlong races of the entire 2012 Fall Meet when last seen here Oct 25. The pick four opens with a likely single of the Ramsey entry that includes Gamekeeper. If looking for an exacta horse, consider Sinister Spinner, a freshened horse who has shown good early speed in his races and bred top and bottom to relish the Keeneland main track.
Focus on horses coming out of route races as you evaluate Race 3, a maiden claiming race at 1-1/16 miles. Of the 23 maiden claiming routes on the Poly in past Spring Meets, 19 were won by horses with route preps. Nine of those winners exited Gulfstream turf preps, a factor shared by several in this race. Among the GP grass horses that most catch my eye is Kid Twist, whose trainer Kenny McPeek has won 6 of the aforementioned 23 races offered at this class/distance. For pedigree buffs, note Bill of Rights is a gelded full-brother to Travers and Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, an now offered up for $40,000 claiming after a 1-1/2 year layoff.
Race 4 could be a Grade 1 stakes an nobody would bat an eye. The classy turf route allowance features Grade 1 Makers Mile and Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Turralure in his 6-year-old return. Al Khali looks to surpass $1 million in career earnings with a win; he won a similarly written race here last April in a very sharp time that ranks third-fastest of 29 nine-furlong turf races at Keeneland over the past six Spring Meets. Deep closers have not fared especially well at 1-1/8 miles on the Keeneland lawn at this class level in past Spring Meets. The average winner has been less than 3 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and 22 of 29 winners were within 5 lengths at that juncture. Al Khali has recent racing on his side and has become more tactical with his pace in a race lacking a lot of speed. This fascinating race boasts the No. 1, 2 and 4-leading trainers in Keeneland Spring Meet turf wins since 2007 in Roger Attfield (Forte Dei Marmi) with 14; Bill Mott (Al Khali) with 13; and Shug McGaughey (Air Support) with 11. I would want to be four-deep in this race also using Turallure in any multi-race wagers.
Horses exiting dirt preps have won half of the 36 “first-level” allowance (N1X) sprints during Spring Meets on Polytrack, such as we see in Race 5. Only four such winners used a turf prep. The glaring aspect of this race is the rare teaming of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Julien Leparoux with Winning Cause. The prolific individuals haven’t won a race together at Keeneland since Any Given Saturday’s October 2006 win in the first Polytrack meet and have had only seven Keeneland tandem efforts in the last five years. Winning Cause ran the fastest 2-year-old maiden special weight here last fall at 7 furlongs when breaking his maiden and the 12th-fastest of 47 ever held on the Kee Poly. Familiar to the Keeneland winner’s circle as well, Skylander returns for Wesley Ward. He romped to a debut baby dash win here last April at short odds while no secret. Interestingly, Ward has only added later Keeneland wins with 2 of his record-setting number of Spring Meet juvenile winners, multiple stakes winner Gypsy Robin and Nina Fever. This race should run though Winning Cause.
Look for a deeper closer to have success in Race 6, a maiden mile that has lured a capacity field of 12. Note an average opening half-mile in mile turf races at 48.25 at Keeneland. When the field is full at 12 in the gate, that runs about 2 lengths quicker at 47.82. Larger fields ensure more tempo and, in turn, wind up helping the closers. Gulfstream-prepped horses have won 5 of the limited 10 such maiden turf races held at Keeneland Spring Meets. The only GP shipper in this race is Tanzspiel, who goes for the track’s most productive grass trainer in Spring Meets, Roger Attfield. He should get pace and save all the ground closing from the rail. First-time starters are just 1-for-10 in these situations; while horses with a route prep last time own 8 of the 10 wins. Pedigree players note sire Smart Strike has been proficient on this course and has Strike Charmer and second-timer checkered Past. Meanwhile, note that Marilyn Monroan’s sire Tapit has had great success with fillies on this turf course siring graded stakes winners Tapitsfly and Laragh. This race starts the pick five and it’s good to see the inexperienced horses pre-race in the first leg of a multi-race wager like this for clues.
Race 7 kicks off the late pick four and we see Pletcher-Leparoux teaming again with Orient Moon, likely to be bet down off her 10/1 morning line. But trainer Pletcher has not been effective with Gulfstream shippers running in Polytrack sprints. It’s shocking to note he’s won but two Polytrack sprint races in Spring Meets past with horses who prepped at Gulfstream (one in 2007, and Aikenite in the 2011 Commonwealth Handicap). Front-running speed has been very effective in 6-1/2 furlong allowance races in past Spring Meets. The average winner is a scant .44 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, one of the absolute speediest profiles of any distance/class on the Polytrack. And route-to-sprint horses have been effective here when they can flash speed. That could make the fresheneded route speedster Cozze Up Lady an interesting play. Also give a long look to Three Am Tour, whose sharp US debut here last fall ranked the third-fastest of 22 seven-furlong races at the entire meeting. Morning line favorite Apropos sizzled at Oaklawn last time and has won over this track, but was that last race too fast after a long break and could we see the dreaded “bounce?”
Again the Gulfstream-prepped turf allowance horses must be respected in Race 8. The GP horses have won 14 of 29 Spring Meet turf allowances at 1-1/18 miles since Spring ’07, while no other circuit has produced more than three winners. I’m Your Love and Steal the Dance are the ones to eyeball on that angle. Pedigree players don’t shy from longshot Dynarama, whose sire Dynaformer has been a tremendous influence on this grass course.
Race 10 is a claiming race for “non-winners of two lifetime races,” and we’ve seen 32 such events offered during past Spring Meets in the Polytrack era. Gulfstream Park shippers own just 4 of those wins. In the 18 sprint races in this Spring N2L claiming category, horses exiting sprint preps have had a 2-to-1 edge in wins, 12-to-6. Favorites are just 1 for the last 11 in N2L claiming Spring sprints and 3-for-18 overall on Poly, so don’t be afraid of a price. Apollo Sky goes for Wesley Ward, the No. 1 claiming sprint trainer all-time on the Polytrack in terms of wins. Andrew McKeever, who had a hot tear here last Spring Meet with limited Fair Grounds shippers, counters with Lollipop and merits respect.
Feature Race Play: Trust me … I can’t make this stuff up – read previous years’ blogs for proof. But I’m here to warn you once again that Race 9, the Grade 1 Ashland, is a volatile race. Five straight years this race has been stolen on the front end by a longshot winner boasting odds of 16/1, 24/1, 5/1, 48/1 and 15/1. All five winners were the half-mile leader in this 1-1/16 miles contest in their respective years. The average winner in the Polytrack era of this race has been a mere 19/1 on the toteboard.
Time to get creative. And do some pace evaluation.
The horses in the Ashland this year who look intent on going near the front are Private Ensign, exiting some faster races on dirt; Spring Venture, who isn’t a burner but could be used with a good draw; and Emollient, another dirt horse wheeling back on one-week’s rest.
My favorite 3-year-old filly is Kitten’s Point, a gorgeous mover who first caught my in her debut at Presque Isle Downs. And if Private Ensign takes to the Polytrack, her class and speed make her a threat. Her sire A.P. Indy sired 2008 Ashland winner Little Belle, so the history says she may be well-placed.
I’ll box those two in the exacta and throw in Emollient as a big price player in true Ashland style.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.