Expert Picks - Jeremy Plonk

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    Jeremy Plonk

    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 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.

    Saturday, October 4, 2014

    Jeremy Plonk’s Keeneland Keys for Saturday, October 4, 2014


    What to Watch for Today: Two-time reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan graces our presence today in the featured Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile. The main event concludes five consecutive important stakes races on the program, spanning from the fifth race through the ninth.


    If you missed the opening day races, you saw fast starts for trainers Ken McPeek and Kellyn Gorder, jockey Julien Leparoux in vintage Keeneland form even on the dirt, and running styles in most races in which the horse pressing/stalking first over in the 2-3 path had success. But wide closers and rail closers won the final 2 races on the card, so keep an open mind.


    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: Friday's rains will have passed according to the forecast and we should have a fast track for a cool day with temps dropping into the 50s. The turf course was NOT used on Friday, and should be in good condition with some give to it.


    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 ( 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 is a starter allowance on the main track at 7 furlongs. When you think starter allowances, a high percentage of winning favorites and short prices come to mind. But at Keeneland, it’s been weird in that the average Spring Meet starter allowance has been 3/1 odds while the Fall Meet has been 6.5/1 since Fall 2006. We get 2 Monmouth route preppers, Rebecca’s Surprise and May Island. Note that there have only been 2 route-to-sprint Monmouth winners during Keeneland Fall Meets since 2006, though Rebecca’s Surprise looks formidable on paper.


    Don’t over-estimate route experience in Races 2 and 4, juvenile maiden special weights at 1-1/16 miles. In the past 2 Fall Meets on Polytrack, only 1 of 8 such winners had a previous race at a route distance – and most consider Polytrack more demanding of route stamina than dirt. The last time Keeneland was a dirt surface this time of year, Steve Asmussen won a 2005 meet-best 5 juvenile races (all in dirt sprints). He’ll try to stretch out Escalate in Race 2 and unveil rookie Don’t Hold Me Back in Race 4. Dale Romans won a pair of 2YO routes at the 2011 Fall Meet (including O’Prado Again) and tries in Race 2 with Thirtysevenliveson and Race 4 with Jack Tripp.


    Race 3 is a stakes-quality race disguised as a second-level allowance route on the dirt. Got Lucky is expected to scratch and go in Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinster, so that gives you a sense of what’s entered in this field. Paul McGee doesn’t have a large barn, but he’s one to watch in these spots during the Fall Meet, winning route allowances in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and trying again with Impetuous Youth on a class rise from Ellis Park. The top prep locales for Fall Meet route allowance winners since 2006 have been Saratoga (30) and Kentucky Downs (22), which bodes well for Helen Kathleen in the event Got Lucky bypasses until Sunday.


    The stakes action begins in Race 5 with the Grade 3 Woodford Stakes at 5 furlongs on turf. The last 6 Woodford winners all have been 5/1 or less on the tote. Seven of the last 8 exited turf sprint preps at 6 furlongs or shorter. Only 5 of the 11 entrants in this race exit a turf sprint prep. An early pace dueler hasn’t won this event since Chamberlain Bridge in 2008. The average winner has been 5 lengths behind after the first half-mile, which means there was only a furlong and a half to go. Marchman and Positive Side ran 1-2 here in the Spring’s equivalent race, the Shakertown, and re-match. Posts 3-4-5 own 9 of the 18 wins in Kee turf sprints with fields of 11 or more since Fall ’06.


    New York preppers have won the Grade 1 First Lady three of the last four years, so keep that in mind as you approach Race 6. None of the last 8 winners were closer than 3 lengths behind after the opening half-mile and the average winner was 6-3/4 lengths back at that juncture. Look for closers. Julien Leparoux has won this race 4 of the last 8 years. If he can get New Yorker Centre Court to settle and rally, it would be a perfect fit for this race’s success. Note this race will kick off the late pick four on Races 7-10.


    Race 8 is the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. After closing the dirt era 2-8 with favorites, the chalk went 0-8 in this race in the Polytrack era with each winner between 5/1 and 17/1 (10/1 average). One of the reasons for the prices is that 5 of the last 7 winners were front-runners and speed rarely was respected on Polytrack by the big-stakes public who didn’t think you could wire on the synthetic. So if speed profiled well in this race on Polytrack, it certainly could be even stronger on dirt. The last 4 winners of this race all came out of Saratoga turf route preps.


    Race 10 wraps the card with a 2-year-old MSW sprint. Favorites were a whopping 22-for-38 in 2-year-old Fall Meet sprints at 6 furlongs during the Polytrack era. Todd Pletcher sends out first-timer Enchantress, but note he’s had only 1 Fall Meet rookie winner at Keeneland since 2009. You wonder if he’s bringing better stock on the dirt, so it’s fair to wait and see. Rookies have accounted for 20 of those 38 wins, so it’s a good place to look for a well-bet firster.

    Feature Race Play, courtesy of the BUZZ Report:

    The $1 million Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile will be the richest race in Keeneland history, and features one of the track’s all-time greats, Wise Dan. And while his personal resume in Lexington includes wins in nearly every important stakes on the docket, he’s surprisingly just 1-for-3 lifetime in the Shadwell Turf Mile.


    Seven of the last 8 winners of this race have been trimming back distance a bit from their most recent prep. Only Wise Dan’s 2012 score during that span came after prepping at the mile trip. So while ‘Dan makes that all-important cut back from the 8.5 furlong Bernard Baruch at Saratoga, this race likely doesn’t come down to any trends. It’s about one question: Is the Wise Dan whose owned this game the past two years the same horse he was before this spring’s colic surgery. His Baruch win was as game and determined as you could ask for, even if it lacked the brilliant, reach-out rocketing we expect from Wise Dan. He did it without really ever leveling out.


    The average winner of the Shadwell Mile’s last 7 races on grass has been 3-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, with no really deep closers and only Thorn Song winning on the engine in 2008. The winning trip has been the Wise Dan trip, if you will, which makes upsetting him difficult.


    The horse to watch in an upset bid is the well-bred Juddmonte colt Seek Again, who took Wise Dan to the hilt on Kentucky Derby Day over a similar turf course at Churchill Downs. I won’t bet much against Wise Dan, but there will be some pick 4 combinations that include both the favorite and Seek Again. Attacking this intra-race is tough creating value as the exactas with Wise Dan on top will be short, and Seek Again winning likely returns $9 or $10, hardly a Brinks truck for doing what’s been nearly impossible the past two years.


    For more on the Shadwell Turf Mile, check out the official Breeders’ Cup Challenge Players’ Guide from Horse Player NOW.



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