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's Keeneland Keys for Friday, April 5, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Opening day welcomes back the nation’s best racing and dominant Keeneland jockey Julien Leparoux to the Kentucky riding colony for the next few weeks. Meanwhile, trainer Wesley Ward, who swept both meet titles here in 2012, wastes no time getting busy with entrants in four opening-day events.
The Grade 3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-old turfers headlines the 10-race card, where Canadian hotshot Up With the Birds brings his three-race winning streak to Lexington and searches for a successive stakes hat trick in his young career.
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: Morning showers and a 60-degree day is in order for the opener. 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 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, so while GP horses will be shown to be dominant in some other categories throughout the meet, this hasn’t been one of them. 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. Trainer Joseph Cheeks annually pops one price horse at Keeneland each of the last four years (8/1, 13/1, 17/1, 20/1) and has both Littlemissattitude and Cocktails At Seven entered.
Race 2 appears to be an absolute match race to me on paper between Namaskara and the mutuel entry of Starsilhouette and Sisterhood for owner Ken Ramsey. A two-deep proposition on paper when you consider Lady Candidate’s trainer Steve Asmussen has won a grand total of one Polytrack route race ever at Keeneland. Horses moving turf-to-Polytrack excel in route allowance races during the Spring Meet, winning 33 of 59 offered. And Gulfstream shippers easily dominate other circuits in this category with 22 winners from those 59 races. Namaskra’s sire Giant’s Causeway has produced 20 Polytrack route winners at Keeneland. This mare ran a good second here last Spring Meet in a time that ranked third-fastest at the meet with only the Ben Ali and Blue Grass Stakes clocking faster at 1-1/8 miles.
Horses from Fair Grounds historically have been very strong in the middle-level claimers like we see in Race 3 during Spring Meets. Of the 26 times we’ve had a $25,000 claimer on the Polytrack during the Spring, 8 times the winner has prepped at FG (no other track more than 4x). And six of those eight New Orleans raiders were horses moving from turf-to-Polytrack. Quick Praise employs that angle as does Just Say Hey, the latter trained by an Andrew McKeever barn that out of nowhere here last Spring rattled off four wins in rapid-fire fashion. Note that horses who prepped on dirt have won only 5 of 35 Polytrack mid-level claimers at Keeneland ($20k-$40 levels) at his 7-furlong distance, with 19 prepping on synthetic and 11 on turf.
My Cousin Vinny movie fans will be all over Tomei in Race 4, and for good handicapping and mojo reasons. The filly is named after co-owner Joe Pesci’s co-star in the famed move, Marissa Tomei. Trainer Wesley Ward, who has 17 wins in the Polytrack era in Spring Meet 2-year-old dashes (most of any trainer), has been publicly high on this filly. Favorites are a stout 27-for-53 all-time in Poly Spring baby dashes like this, so don’t expect a big price. And note that 50 of those 53 winners had a local Keeneland workout most recently, so give a hard lean to those with some a.m. course experience. If you’re looking for the exotics underneath or an upsetter, note trainers John Hancock (entry of Ginger Stone and Holy Moly Susan) and Larry Demeritte (Halo’s Command) each popped nice-priced baby dash winners here in the 2010 Spring Meet at 21/1 and 9/1, respectively.
A Race 5 allowance sprint offers a ton to choose from, and the options are of quality. There’s not a throw-out in the field of seven, which includes all highly competitive stakes horses and multiple stakes winners. I found it very interesting that, in 93 Spring Meet allowance sprints on the Polytrack, 9 times the winner was a horse laid off since the Churchill Downs Fall Meet. That’s a strong representation given the timeframe away and tells me that high-quality horses use these season-opening allowance preps at shorter distances in pretty good fashion. That makes Seruni of interest in Race 5, who has been working sharply at the deep Payson Park training center in Florida for the return. Another layoff type worth noting is Flashy Dresser, whose trainer Fred Seitz owns 7 Keeneland Poly wins and two of those were making their first starts of their respective calendar years. We know he can get one ready. Scatman is the more “now” horse in the field after two trips at Gulfstream this winter, albeit unsuccessful. But he’s a horse that’s 2-for-2 at Keeneland when sprinting and owns the second-fastest 7-furlong time of the 2012 Fall Meet only behind the Grade 2 Raven Run, and he also owns the second-fastest 6-furlong Polytrack clocking at Keeneland for any 2-year-old at 6 furlongs when he broke his maiden here in 2011. I might try to get by the multi-race wagers with Seruni, Scatman and Flashy Dresser, but it’s a tough call. Look to the toteboard for value to separate.
Keeneland has not offered Spring Meet turf maiden races for very long, in fact we’ve only had 10 total over the 2011 and 2012 Spring Meets. But Race 6 puts the maidens on the grass at a mile and opens the 50-cent pick five. Pedigree enthusiasts might be interested to know that the sire of two of those 10 Keeneland turf maiden winners in recent seasons was Perfect Soul, who is represented here by Tormenta Fiera. Seven of the 10 prior winners discussed in this situation had at least one prior turf attempt on their resume and first-time starters own just one win of the 10. Five of the 10 shipped in from Gulfstream Park, which bodes well for Parnelli, Kiton, Tactical Moment and Tiz Now My Choice. Also note that 8 of 10 winners had a route prep prior. Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box here as half of the 10 winners were 12/1 longshots or greater! Horses like Rakete and Kilton may be playable Gulfstream longshots who have both route and turf past experience.
As noted earlier, allowance sprints like Race 7 are a fair place to start the season for layoff horses away since the previous fall. Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes third-place finisher Liberated makes that well-placed return bid Friday off a series of strong workouts at Payson Park. Don’t be surprised if the Oliver family of trainers has its horses ready to rock in Races 5 and 7. Flying Rapunzel also makes her first start of the year and she’s by Tale of the Cat, whose 19 Keeneland Polytrack sprint wins as a sire are tied for second-most and only one behind Unbridled’s Song for the all-time lead. One notable filly here based on past running lines is Over the Counter, who has been battling Cor Cor in Florida this winter. For those of us who followed the 2012 Keeneland Fall Meet, I didn’t see a better filly sprinter in this age division than Cor Cor, who is a real talent. I have no idea what to do with California raider Speedinthruthecity and probably will stand against based on lack of certainty and a short-type price.
Race 8 is another allowance sprint, but this one at a more developed “second-level” condition, also called N2X allowance. We’ve had 13 N2X allowance sprints during Spring Meets on the Poltrack and 7 of them have been won in route-to-sprint prep fashion. When you look at longer sprints at 6-1/2 and 7 furlongs like today’s 6-1/2 furlong trip, the route-to-sprint influence strengthens to 6 winners from 9 races offered at this class. Yes I’m Awesome cuts back from an allowance try at Gulfstream that looked like a graded stakes, won by Travers champ Golden Ticket. Seven Lively Sins, Laugh Track and longshot Ol Army also cut back from routes. Seven Lively Sins really impressed me here as a 2-year-old two years ago and perhaps the return to Keeneland will help him realize his best. Laugh Track’s daddy Distorted Humor owns 19 Polytrack sprint wins at Keeneland as a sire, tied for second-most all-time. Todd Pletcher’s first starter of the meet, Yes I’m Awesome, rates the one to beat.
We close the card with a blue-collar $10,000 claiming sprint in Race 10. Turfway shippers have won exactly half of the 42 Spring Meet claimers offered for $10,000 or less in the Polytrack era. This race is proliferated with TP invaders, so that’s not going to help much. Demand horses at this cheaper class level have recent form. All 11 sprints at 6 furlongs for this class level on Polytrack during past Spring Meets have been won by horses who had prepped on February 15 or sooner. On paper, Marquet Cat looks like an absolute cinch on the class drop for owner Ken Ramsey, who is apt to drop horses simply to win races at Keeneland. The presence of top pilot Joel Rosario in the saddle tells you that this is not a problem horse as much as one looking to get his picture taken and without any conditions left to run for, so a logical one to have claimed away.
Feature Race Play: Friday’s Race 9 main event is the Grade 3 $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-old turfers. What I found astounding about researching this race is that four of the last five winners of the Transylvania were horses who wintered at the Payson Park training center in Florida. That’s not exactly as busy territory as Palm Meadows and Gulfstream, so it’s rather significant and telling that the deep Payson surface really has readied horses for the sand-based Keeneland turf course they find.
Imagine my surprise and delight when uncorking that fact and scanning the past performances to see that the only Payson resident in the field this year is the horse I’ve grown to love all winter, Fire Guard. He captivated me with a visually impressive win at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1, and had a herky-jerky trip in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes while not showing his best. He rebounded to handle the hot-shot Jack Milton in allowance company next time and appears ready to explode as a stakes horse. I was interested in betting him in the Grade 1 Blue Grass if that’s where Bill Mott sent him.
Speaking of the Blue Grass next week, the horse I love in that spot, Rydilluc, defeated two Transylvania morning line longshots last time that are worth a real price consideration under Fire Guard. Both Amen Kitten and Holiday Star hail from super-respected barns of Wesley Ward and Graham Motion, and neither had a real chance to do anything against a slow pace vs. Rydilluc with the way that horse flies late after pressing the tempo. Redwood Kitten also exits a key race in which the winner captured the Grade 3 Spiral and the third-place finisher wound the Rushaway the same day. He was sandwiched between those two at Gulfstream last time and fits with these.
The best bet of the day is Fire Guard and we’ll hope to land some prices with him.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.