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 Thursday, October 24, 2013
What to Watch for Today: A graded stakes race masquerades as a Race 6 allowance feature today when millionaire Rahystrada takes on $900,000 earner Air Support. Will it be trick or treat for the competition? Meanwhile, a heated battle for the meet’s leading jockey hits the final three days as Rosie Napravnik, Joe Rocco Jr. and Alan Garcia fight it out.
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: Mostly cloudy skies and cool temperatures remain with a high of 51 and breezy conditions expected. Pay attention to the flags (flags to the left favor early speed, flags to the right favor late runners). 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: 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 is a unique 1-3/16 miles test for lower-end $16,000 claimers. We’ve only had 39 races total on the Polytrack at this distance or farther. But when it comes to claiming horses at this distance, the number drops to just 6, and none since the 2010 Fall Meet. Five of those six winners have been forwardly placed, each within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Reason being, cheaper horses at this level don’t want to run this far, and the plodder types, are, well, plodders. I’m a big fan of horses running back the second time at the meet in claiming routes, so Fizzano makes a ton of sense forwardly placed on short rest off a win for $10,000. Lovemelovesmenot could provide the opposition, but his pedigree seems too short for the trip. Ya Gotta Have Soul should appreciate the distance on pedigree, as would Perfectly At Home.
Race 2 is a non-winners of 2 lifetime races claimer. Indiana Downs raiders lit up the board with upsets in 2 of the first 4 N2L races we’ve had at this Fall Meet. Key To Fame (18-1) and Turncoat (19-1) carried the Indy torch earlier in the season. Favorites are just 2-for-13 in these N2L claimers over the past two Fall Meets with an average winner of more than 12/1 odds. Both Silver Ward and Quittin Time competed in Indy and both figure to be solid prices if you want to continue the trend. Obviously beating the potent Ramsey entry of Sayler’s Creek and Off the Page appears a tall order in this race. But heavily bet favorites often are how you get pricey payoffs on overlaid challengers. I will tread lightly in this spot.
Maiden claimers sprint 6 furlongs in Race 3. Trainer Ken McPeek owns a whopping 19 Fall Meet victories in the Poly era with horses making their second starts of the meet, double that of his next closest rival, and Primmensity could add another for the barn. I liked the middle move in her debut at a tough 6-1/2 furlong distance, albeit this particular one rates the slowest of the meet to date. Trainer Tim Hamm (US Rockette) scored a maiden claimer at 6.5 furlongs during the Fall 2012 stand with a first-time starter at 18-1. This filly’s young sire US Ranger should be a sharp juvenile synthetic sire.
Race 4 looks like a pure pace play on paper. The 7-furlong allowance sprint has a small field of 7, which historically favors early speed. With rail-drawn Whatthecatdrugin pontetianlly being lone early speed, he might be long gone for speed-jock Robby Albarado. This is the third such 7F allowance/optional claimer at the N3X level this meet and the previous two were won by dirt preppers, so don’t over-emphasize a surface change. Trainer Graham Motion has hit more than 40% in the exacta this meet and Occasional View could be poised to continue that.
Mid-level $25,000 claimers sprint 6 furlongs in Race 5. Presque Isle Downs shippers historically fit very well at this level and distance and should be dangerous here, especially given their solid run this meet at various situations. Grand Old Game has solid PID form at a nice price for a Mike Trombetta barn always worth your respect. Other PID runners here Hokes Hope, Awed, Grey By You and Too Wild For Words should be on your radar. It’s a competitive field and my lean would be toward the best value of the PID posse. Keep in mind Hokes Hope ran the 4th-fastest 6 furlongs of the entire meet, quite a note for a $16k claimer.
Skipping ahead to Race 7, the 2-year-old maiden special weight sprinters reconvene at 6 furlongs. First-time starters have won 2 of the 3 MSW baby dashes at 6 panels this meet and that figures to continue with 10 of 12 entrants making career debuts. Pedigree-wise, consider Ches’ Stein, whose sire Bernstein has had a pair of 2YO stakes winners at the meet; Peace Offering, a son of superb Poly sire Giant’s Causeway; and Leave A Message, whose sire Tribal Rule is a west coast Polytrack major producer, but rare to see in Kentucky. Sharp workers Green Mask, for 2-year-old dominator Wesley Ward, and Money Fan, for a Ken McPeek barn that unleashed 2 debut winners here Sunday alone, add depth to an intriguing race.
Race 8 is a turf mile allowance. While favorites lost the first 14 turf races this meet, they’ve come somewhat back of late with a 4-for-23 record on the meet now. In turf allowances this meet, 4 of 11 winners were 10/1 or more, so don’t be shy with a price. There has been zero circuit dominance on the grass at this level this meet, the wins evenly spread among shippers from anywhere and everywhere. 11 different trainers have won the 11 turf allowances at the meet. But demand a turf prep as 9 of 11 winners so far were those with a last-out attempt on grass. Hot Tempo was fourth in a similar race here in the Spring Meet, one in which winner Emotional Kitten went on to win the Hilltop Stakes next out at Pimlico and then added a pair of Grade 1 placings after that. Pedigree buffs note Vintage Strike is half-brother to Friesan Fire.
Race 9 is a maiden claiming route, and rare we get this for the finale and not the opener the way races have been carded this meet. But a full field of 12 makes it a good anchor to multi-race wagers and hence its placement. Favorites are 0-for-8 in maiden claiming routes at the meet heading into closing week, and the average winner has been a shade below 10/1 odds. Only 1 of 8 winners was within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile (average almost 4 lengths back at that juncture). Six of eight winners prepped on turf. A closer with some turf-prep status may be the route to go. Professor Midnight had plenty of grass experience this season before a decent third on the Polytrack here opening weekend. He adds blinkers for a Rusty Arnold barn looking to keep its winning streak alive at Keeneland meets.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Race 6 is a $66,000 allowance race that easily could be a Grade 3 stakes at any track in America. The eight-horse field has earned almost $3.5 million. They also own a collective 8 wins over the Keeneland turf, so we’re talking about proven commodities on the surface as well.
Rosie Napravnik takes the mount on Air Support for Shug McGaughey, interesting given she won the G3 Arlington Handicap on Rahystrada and rode that runner in the prestigious Arlington Million in August. Of course, she has more chances to ride big horses for McGaughey moving forward than Byron Hughes, so business decisions like this always are worth the investment of careful consideration – rather than just assuming her agent, Steve Bass, thinks Air Support has a better chance to win.
Utley has a lot of talent and also had Rosie aboard last time in her near-miss in stakes company at Kentucky Downs. Rosie does ride quite a bit for Jonathan Sheppard, so her departure from Utley and acceptance of Air Support might ring a bit more profound in this case.
I think it’s a 3-horse race and will use all 3 in the multi-race wagers, but if I had to lean on just one, I’d give Air Support the mild lean. The only other consideration I see is Tahoe Lake, whose third last week to a freakish performance by Frac Daddy probably is better than it looks. The 7-year-old loves the Keeneland turf.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.