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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 Sunday, October 5, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Keeneland’s most tradition-steeped race of the Fall Meeting will be renewed this afternoon when the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster welcomes a field that includes the east’s top-ranked distaffer Close Hatches. It could be a Juddmonte hand-off in the winner’s circle as both race sponsor and owner of the standout favorite.
You haven’t wanted to be very far off the lead either of the first two days of the meet, and notably the 2-3 path has been outstanding to press and draw away. Both days featured a solid headwind that can discourage horses once they turn into the stretch and fail to change places much. Focus more attention on the pressers who can get into the 2-3 path when they fit your handicapping fundamentals of what a contender should look like in each race.
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: Partly cloudy skies warming a bit to the mid-60s, so we should be fast and firm. Breezes in the 14-15 mph area are forecasted, so once again keep an eye on the flags (flags to the left favor early speed, flags to the right give closers their best chance of winning).
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to give you the inside stats. 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!
Obviously trends on the dirt surface will be evolving throughout the meet, and I’ve also gone back and researched the most recent Fall Meet on dirt in 2005 to extract some insights to how I think the racing action may morph in the post-Poly era.
Race 1 opens the card with a bottom-level $10,000 claimer, and last year’s Fall Meet saw Presque Isle (3) and Churchill Downs (3) preppers account for more than half (6 of 11) such events. So it comes as little surprise to see the field dominated by those 2 circuits. Speed dominates such class levels at 6 furlongs during past Fall Meets, even on the Polytrack, which often was friendlier to closers than dirt’s reputation. The average winner was just .07 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile for all Fall 6F bottom claimers in the Poly era. Trainer Merrill Scherer (Chocolat City) long has been best at his best at Keeneland in claiming sprints. Speedy Total Talent, away since last November, figures to be the one to catch.
Race 2 is for older maiden special weight routers on the main track. Since Fall ’06, no trainer has won more older MSW races during this stand than Rusty Arnold’s 5 such victories and he looks to add to that with Smart Ashley. Favorites are just 4-26 in these Kee Fall elder MSW routes on any surface (turf or main), so don’t be afraid of a price. The lone elder MSW of the meet was won by 7/2 Ellis Park prepper Race Day.
Arlington Park shippers have excelled in Fall Meet maiden claimers at Keeneland in the last several years, and while Race 3 has no such runners off a race in Chicago, note first-timer Execute trained exceptionally well there all summer for the debut. You have to think he would have fit there if he had ran, and then correspondingly fits very well here. Maiden claiming favorites were a strong 7-for-17 the last time we had a Fall Meet on dirt (average winner 3/1).
Race 4 is an upper-level $40,000 claiming route on the main track. Presque Isle raiders won 2 of 3 such events last Fall Meet and Captain Midnight will see if he can keep that PID momentum on the change in surfaces. Trainer Ken McPeek’s runners have looked ready to run early in the meet and he makes a healthy class drop with Olympic Thunder trying to find the right level.
As mentioned in the opening race, at the $10,000 claiming level in Race 5, it’s a good place to fish for Churchill and Presque Isle preppers based on last Fall Meet. One of those is Jewelynamber, who last time at Churchill ran third behind Chocolat City. Keep an eye on how Chocolat City fares in Race 1 this afternoon, which could be a positive or negative barometer for what to do with Jewelynamber. Only 6 of 46 $10k route claimers during Fall Meets since 2006 have been won by horses exiting 1-turn preps. Horses exiting 2-turn tune-ups from positive circuits include Daddy Approves and Miss Stellsie and both should be big prices.
Race 6 is a rare 2-year-old turf allowance mile. Only 1 such race was offered last year, won by Street Sailing dropping out of a Presque Isle Downs stakes on the synthetic at 16/1. During Fall 2012, Chris Block won the meet’s 2 offerings (IO Ireland, Bambazonki) with Arlington turf route preppers. He’ll try to resurrect that record with Prado’s Sweet Ride on Sunday. Several of these alumni drop out of the stakes ranks from the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, a race won by a previous 0-for-4 maiden, so take that with a grain of salt in your analysis.
Race 7 is a maiden special weight route for the 2-year-olds, in this case the fillies. Favorites have won 5 of the first 8 juvenile races at the Fall Meet through 2 days with 6 of 8 winners going off 5/2 or less. Those 8 winners have come from 6 locales and 1 first-time starter (Saratoga the only to double-up. Four of the 5 juvenile route winners early this meet were stretching out after sprint preps, so don’t over-emphasize whose already gone “long.”
The Race 8 co-featured Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes has been a haven for Saratoga-prepped juveniles. The last 7 such editions held on turf (last year was rained onto Polytrack) have been won by horses last seen at the Spa or Belmont. That’s good news for Can’t Happen Here, the lone runner exiting a Saratoga tune-up. His trainer Chad Brown won this race 2 years ago, the last time on turf, with Balance The Books. Brown also sends out Chief Kitten, a Saratoga alum last in action at Belmont. Horses exiting route preps have dominated the Bourbon during that span and none was making a surface change (all turf preps).
The curtain falls on opening weekend in Sunday’s Race 10 turf route allowance. Of the 108 turf allowances during Fall Meets since 2006, 29 winners have exited preps in New York (17 Sar, 12 Bel). No other circuit has come close (AP 14 winners, KD 12 winners). Bill Mott has 11 Fall Meet turf allowance wins during that span and looks to add with Dobra Historia, in from Belmont. Stroll to victory won perhaps the deepest and strongest maiden race of the entire 2014 Spring Meet at Keeneland from my estimation in his April 24 score.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Even in the perceived chaos of Polytrack handicapping, the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster was a solid rock for horseplayers in the last 8 years. Seven times the winner was 5/1 or less despite a field size that averaged 10.5 starters per race (all between 9-12 runners), including 3 straight winning favorites – Aruna, In Lingerie and Emollient a year ago.
Heavily favored Close Hatches will be a handful to upend in the Spinster, plain and simple. She figures to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott back-to-back wins in this race and his third Spinster in six years. Seven of the last 8 Spinster winners prepped in New York, which underscores the chances of Close Hatches and perhaps gives 3-year-old Got Lucky more credence. The fact that 2 straight sophomores have beaten their elders in the Spinster also gives Got Lucky some positive mojo.
While I highly respect Don’t Tell Sophia, at the Spinster’s 1-1/8 miles distance, it will be a cold exacta Close Hatches over Got Lucky in this corner.
For more on the Juddmonte Spinster, check out the official Breeders’ Cup Challenge Players’ Guide from Horse Player NOW.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.