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 21 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, creator 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, October 2, 2015
What to Watch for Today: Welcome back to the autumn place to be! The opening day, 10-race card features reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week in the G3 Phoenix Stakes as well as the tradition-rich G1 Alcibiades for the 2-year-old fillies.
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: The rain and wind could be a factor today, so keep your handicapping process adaptive. Temps in the mid-50s are forecasted but a 70% chance of rain exists and winds could reach 10-20 mph. Note that flags to the left (a backstretch tailwind) favor early speed typically and flags to the right (a backstretch headwind) give closers their best chance to rally.
Keeneland Handicapping 101: Here we go race-by-race to help you unearth the trends. 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!
Race 1 tees off the meeting with $10,000 claiming sprinters at 6 furlongs. We had 4 such races last Fall in the return to dirt and all 4 were won in front-running fashion. All 4 winners exited short sprint preps at 5-1/2 or 6 furlongs. What’s cool about this race is that there have only been 5 two-time winners so far on the new Keeneland dirt through two meets, and a pair of them square off here: Proven Warrior and Defer Heaven. Trainer Ingrid Mason won 5 sprint races last Fall at Keeneland and returns with Frostibite Falls. But note all 5 of her winners last season had local drills before the score, and this one last worked at Arlington Park. Moonlit Meteor’s 6-furlong win here in the Spring meet went about 1-1/2 lengths faster than average, significant given this is a bottom-level claimer.
Race 2 is slated for turf, but conditions could warrant a surface change. Stay advised. Last Fall’s 8 turf allowances at the meet with small fields of 6 or less played very true to form with all winners 3/1 or less on the tote (9/5 average). Wesley Ward (Pablo Del Monte) won 3 turf route allowances at the 2014 Fall Meet. Knights Nation may be vulnerable at a short price as sire Indygo Shiner has no turf wins at Keeneland in our database which goes back to Fall ’06. And trainer Dallas Stewart hasn’t won a Fall turf allowance during that span either. Obviously give Street Strategy a very long look if the race comes off the turf.
Future stars potentially line up in Races 3 and 5, which are 1-1/16 miles route maiden special weights for the 2-year-olds on dirt. Favorites won 10 of 19 juvenile MSWs on dirt last Fall, including 4 of 6 in routes, so form held well. Of the 3 such 2YO MSW routes held opening weekend last Fall, 2 were won by Saratoga shippers stretching out from sprints (the other exited a Monmouth dirt mile). In the Race 3 division, Attraction, Ifyousnoozeyoulose and Aztec Sense fit that Saratoga sprint-to-route profile. Notably, trainer Wesley Ward has not won a single 2YO MSW route on any surface at Keeneland in our database and tries to fix that from post 12 with Deep in a Dream. As for the Race 5 split division, Vilma and Clear The Mine have the Spa sprint prep. Meanwhile, note Todd Pletcher saddled 4 juvenile MSW winners at the 2014 Fall Meet, 3 of those coming in dirt routes. Now he counters with Donegal Moon, a son of Malibu Moon, who also sired Pletcher’s impressive, fast winner over this surface last Fall named Enchantress.
Allowance runners extend to 1-1/8 miles on dirt in Race 4. We’ve had 17 races at this distance so far on the new surface and the average winner has been 2.85 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, so it’s been a press/stalk favorable trip. Trainer Todd Pletcher won 5 dirt routes last Fall and has a pair of 1-1/8 miles stakes winners on this surface (Carpe Diem, Protonico). He sends out Gangster as the likely favorite. Don’t be afraid of a layoff horse at this class level. Of the 9 N1X allowances on dirt last Fall, 6 of them were won by horses who didn’t have a start in September.
Onto Race 6 (and hopefully still on the turf), maidens are stretched out to 1-3/16 miles. Favorites went just 1-for-11 during elder MSWs on turf last Fall Meet, so perhaps we can notch a price play. Nine of the 11 exited a turf prep, and 8 of 11 had route preps. So look for those proven recently long on the green. Kentucky Downs produced 4 of the winners in this situation with 4 others shipping in from New York (Saratoga or Belmont). Those exiting turf route preps at Kentucky Downs here include Corinthian Wind, Wild Covey, Honey Chile Ryder and Angel of Troy (also-eligible). Pedigree players will love this race with Bernardini’s half-sister Pin Up involved, as well as daughters of top turf mares Honey Ryder (Honey Chile Ryder) and Vacare (Crocus Hill).
A couple of pedigree plays on dirt could be in order in Race 7, a six-furlong allowance sprint. Bridaria is sired by Harlan’s Holiday, who has a leading 6 victories in sprints on the new Keeneland surface. And Street Song is by Flatter, a sire responsible for not 1, but 2 major dirt sprint stakes winners on the new footing – Taris and Kobe’s Back. The aforementioned Enchantress returns for Todd Pletcher. She ran the second-fastest six furlongs by a 2YO at the 2014 Fall Meet (1:10-1/5), only behind future stakes winner Barbados.
The co-featured G3 Phoenix Stakes in Race 8, hands down, is the best Breeders’ Cup Sprint division race I’ve seen in America this year. Work All Week set the track record on the new Keeneland dirt in winning this race last year which still stands. He takes on a deep cast of 3-year-olds, which includes Runhappy, Holy Boss and Barbados. Only four 3-year-olds have won the Phoenix in the last 50 years, but two of those have come in more-recent times (Sum of the Parts and Wise Dan). None of the first 6 sprint stakes on the new Keeneland dirt have been won by horses cutting back from a route to a sprint. Barbados will challenge that. As mentioned earlier, he not only ran the fastest 6 furlongs of the meet by a 2YO here last Fall, but his time of 1:09-2/5 still ranks among the top 7 clockings in more than 60 races at the trip through 2 meetings. Not bad for a then-juvenile! While we’ve only had a trio of 6F races on this dirt boasting 12-horse fields, the rail should not be an eliminator if you like Runhappy. We saw Simon Bar Sinister wire from the rail during the Spring Meet going 6F vs. a full gate, so it can be done. A few other notables: Trainer Steve Asmussen (Holy Boss) has only a single win on the new Keeneland dirt (a non-winners of 2 lifetime claimer), and sire Officer (Alsvid) already has a G1-winning dirt sprint stakes victor on this track in Princess Violet, who won the Madison this Spring.
Race 10 is a non-winners of 2 lifetime claimer on the main track, and these races were chalk city last Fall Meet. Post-time choices went 6-for-8 in the N2Ls and every winner was 4/1 or less. Seven of the 8 winners had recent September starts, 5 of them coming at Churchill Downs. Purimeter, Medal of Courage and Oh Newman would fit that recent CD profile. Also noteworthy is that trainer Eddie Kenneally won a pair of these N2L claimers during the 2014 Fall Meet and returns with Sound of Freedom, a good second over this track in April.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 9 is the co-featured G1 Alcibiades Stakes for the juvenile fillies at 1-1/16 miles on the main track. Trainers Doug O’Neill (Gomo) and Kenny McPeek (Dothraki Queen) have had success in this race in the past, winning in 2010 and 2008, respectively, with Wickedly Perfect and Dream Empress. These two barns figure to vie for favoritism in the Alcibiades.
Sire Blame broke a couple of nice maidens on the Keeneland dirt this Spring, so Put Da Blame On Me could be one who appreciates the footing. Also note trainer Dale Romans did win long with a 2-year-old at Keeneland last fall in the MSW ranks (Jack Tripp). Meanwhile, Dream Dance goes for a respected Neil Howard barn that pairs with jockey Brian Hernandez. That rider has done very well in Keeneland dirt routes since the new surface went in, winning 6 such races.
I’ll take a bit of a price swing with Decked Out, who’s not a trend-type pick but rather one that I think can benefit from a better pace target than how things played out in the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill. She’ll be mixed in with Gomo from a very solid west coast group of 2YOs.
The only place where you can get my full-card selections every day is in the BUZZ Report at Horseplayernow.com – subscription plans cost approximately $2 per day and offer me and my team of 9 handicappers to your service.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.