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.
Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Friday, April 4, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Keeneland’s final Polytrack-era season kicks off with a 10-race card headlined by the G3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes. A trio of stakes winners from California, Florida and France congregate to Keeneland in one of those melting pot matchups that makes this meet so special.
Be sure to check out my Keeneland coverstory in the debut issue of the FREE, digital Horse Player NOW Magazine: http://issuu.com/horseplayernow/docs/hpnowmag_april2014
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live blog/chat 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 stormy, windy opening day is forecasted so keep an eye on the conditions. Strong gusts 20-30 mph are possible. Flags to the left (headwind in the stretch) often favor front-running speed horses as no one wants to pass when they turn into the lane.
Polycapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to give you the inside stats. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp) that you can manipulate and search for yourself as well!
Race 1 opens the meet with bottom-level $10,000 claimers in a route on the Polytrack. We’ve seen 20 such past races in Spring Meets on the surface, and horses prepped last at Turfway have won 12 of those – including 2 of 4 in 2013. Rockefeller and English Council come via Turfway in this contest and neither figures to get bet with Ward and Maker legitimate contenders entered. Only 1 of those 20 winners exited a turf prep as Straight Town will attempt as the likely favorite for Wesley Ward, whose 44 Spring Meet wins are the most in the Poly era. But claiming routes typically are Mike Maker territory – he’s won a record 4 such $10k Spring routes – as he sends out Cantonic. Tough call here going against the big barns, but you’ll be paid if successful.
Maiden claimers sprint 7 furlongs in Race 2. Only 2 of 23 past Spring Meet maiden claimers at 7 furlongs have been won by horses at double-digit odds, so don’t expect a huge bomb. A field size of 7 here almost assures against that. Note that all 4 maiden claiming 7F races at the 2013 Spring Meet were won by horses turning back from a route prep last time. Overall, 14 of the 23 MCL 7F races in the Poly era during Spring Meets have been won in similar route-to-sprint fashion. Radiant and Artful Lady make such a move in this spot Friday. And FG shippers won similar races in similar approaches here in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 Spring Meets.
Race 3 is a split division of Race 1, so Turfway raiders Thatboathassailed, Five Afleet and Magical Moment deserve an extra look. Maker, the all-time leader in Polytrack claiming route wins, counters with Get In Line – who partners with jockey Javier Castellano, who has been a front-end route riding dynamo here. His 43 career Polytrack winners have averaged just being .6 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, a remarkable number. Julien Leparoux’s average is -2.8 lengths by comparison.
The quality picks up in Race 4 with a turf allowance route at 1 3/16 miles. Amazingly, 10 of the 22 winners in turf allowances at the 2013 Spring Meet were horses making their first start of the year. Professor Midnight is the only such entrant in this field, and that 4-year-old ran a pretty good third here in Spring ’13 in the maiden ranks – so we know he can handle the course. Of the 12 winners last Spring who HAD raced at least once prior in the calendar year, 8 of those exited a prep at Gulfstream. That’s a factor involving no less than 6 runners entered here. As many horses wired turf allowances last Spring (6) as closed from more than 5 lengths back to win (6).
Race 5 is for entry-level allowance sprinters on the Polytrack. Horses exiting dirt preps hold a solid 22-12-8 edge here over turf and synthetic-prepped horses in the 42 such races held in past Springs on the Poly. That “dirt” list only includes Gold Magic, Abou and Appreciating in this field. About 60 percent (14 of 23) of winners in these races at specifically 7 furlongs have been runners turning back in distance from a route prep. About fits that bill, and his sire Distorted Humor, has sired 13 winners on the Kee Poly at 7 furlongs – easily the most of any sire. Look for shipper Irish Score also to like the course on pedigree by Even the Score (sire of Blue Grass winner Dullahan).
Three-year-old maiden special weights, like we see in Race 6, are one of the busiest race types offered at Keeneland in the Spring. No less than 122 have been presented to this point in the Poly era. Gulfstream shippers dominate – winning 47 times – easily most of any circuit. First-time starters are next with 23, followed by Fair Grounds at 17. Last Spring, GP and first-timers accounted for 9 of the 11 offered. H Town Brown and Appealing Alex come via Gulfstream – the latter for trainer Nick Zito who is making a few rare appearances on opening day. Appealing Alex is sired by Unbridled’s Song, the #2-ranked sire all-time on the Kee Poly behind Giant’s Causeway, who passed him for the lead late last year. But on paper H Town Brown appears the more formidable of the duo – and perhaps one of the stronger keys of the day. First-timers to watch are Watery Moon, Coastal Moon and King of Bay. The first pair is sired by Malibu Moon, whose offspring won just 2 races here in 2012 and 2013 combined.
Turf milers square off in Race 7 and once again I have to remind the success of horses in turf miles making their first start of the year. Of the 52 turf miles offered in Spring Meets since 2007, 20 winners were making seasonal debuts – including 5 of 8 last year. Come-backers Absolute Crackers, Drama Drama and Primed For Passion merit respect. In fact, Absolute Crackers won his only Keeneland turf start during Fall 2012 while coming off a five-month vacation. His trainer Graham Motion has 4 turf mile Spring Meet wins during that span, second only to Roger Atfield’s 6.
Nine of 15 Spring Meet second-level allowance Poly sprints have been won on the turn-back in distance from route to sprint. So keep that in mind as you evaluate Race 8, a seven-furlong N2X event. Four of 7 entered in this race make that claim. Note that only 2 of those 15 winners in this situation were dirt-prepped. That puts turf router Bella Castani and synthetic router Weekend Wish in our crosshairs. Believe it or not, Turfway shippers have the best performance at this class level – 5 wins, no other circuit more than 2 – and Weekend Wish likely will be a big price.
Race 10 wraps up opening day with a non-winners of 2 lifetime claiming route on the Polytrack. These races are offered 3-4 times a season in recent Spring Meets. The mixed bag results from the 7 total offerings don’t lend much to trends. Sire’s Kitten’s Joy (Aunt Ruby’s Kitten) and Pulpit (Bold Dance) have been among the leading Poly route sires at Kee with 18 and 12 wins, respectively, by their offspring – though Kitten’s Joy has not been remotely as effective the past two years as he was in 2011 at Keeneland. School On A Hill is a classy horse and note his papa Student Council won the G1 Pacific Classic on Del Mar’s Polytrack. Note: Pedigree buffs might recognize Bold Dance as a brother to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Four of the last 5 Transylvania Stakes winners exited the turf at Gulfstream Park in their most recent start, so that’s the first and best place to look in the Race 9 opening day feature. This 1 1/16 miles turf event carries a $100,000 purse for the 3-year-olds.
Woodfield Springs, Pleuven, Storming Inti, Picozza and Can’thelpbelieving are the Fab 5 from Gulfstream’s grass in this year’s Transylvania. All are well-bred, from powerful connections and make legitimate cases. Todd Pletcher won this race last year with Jack Milton and counters for the repeat with Picozza – as well as stablemate Global View. The latter will be interesting to see since he exits a second at Tampa to Bobby’s Kitten, who will be favored to win next Saturday’s G1 Blue Grass. How he runs in the Transylvania may flatter or falter the form of the Blue Grass chalk.
We mentioned earlier about the front-running prowess of Javier Castellano at Keeneland, and he’ll have Storming Inti right near the engine on Friday. From post 10, he and fellow speed Picozza in post 11, must use some early heat to avoid being carried wide. Add in pace factor Laddie Boy, and I think this race could set up for a closer.
Can’thelpbelieving has been high on my radar all year and I loved his run-all-day style in his maiden try at Keeneland last fall. He will be heard from late, as well Medal Count, who galloped out strongly in a strangely run Fountain of Youth in which he was too close early. I’ll work those two on top and mix in the logical like Storming Inti and the Pletcher pair in the exotics.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.