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 Wednesday, April 16, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Trainers Mark Casse and Ken McPeek open week 3 of the meeting with designs on the title – and both appear to have live horses on what might be a pivotal midseason card in that chase. Don’t let the pundits and talking heads sway you on how the track will play due to the early week cool down – there’s zero statistical evidence to a correlation to temperature and times and/or winning running styles at Keeneland.
In races with available temperatures in the Polytrack database, let’s examine all 6 furlong races since that has the most availability to be statistically useful. We’re looking at the reported temperature, the winning time and the average lengths behind after the opening half-mile of the winner. This tells us how fast they’re running and from where they are winning.
40-49 degrees -------- 1:10.42 (-1.58 lengths after opening ½ mile)
50-59 degrees -------- 1:10.32 (-1.38 lengths)
60-69 degrees -------- 1:10.54 (-1.53 lengths)
70-79 degrees -------- 1:10.31 (-1.08 lengths)
80-89 degrees -------- 1:10.71 (-1.26 lengths)
As you can see, the numbers bounce all over the place and have no drastic differences. All average times are within about 2 lengths no matter the temperature, and the average beaten lengths calls jump all over the place based on temperature ranges with no correlation to higher or lower temps. Case closed, now go pick the best horse and don’t be fooled into thinking speed or closers based on the temperature.
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: After Tuesday’s 30-degree cool down, mostly sunny skies and temps climbing back into the mid to upper 50s are forecasted.
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 maiden claiming route on the main track and these MCLs at the meet have been longshot havens. Four of the 7 offered so far at any distance have been won by horses at 10-1, 24-1, 26-1 and 31-1. Don’t be afraid to step out to a price. Gulfstream shippers have won 16 of 33 all-time MCL Spring Meet routes on the Poly, including 2 of the first 3 this season. Of those 16 winners, 12 had exited turf preps at GP. Northeast Bound, Ready Mecke and Successful Brothers exit the Gulfstream lawn, and going with the juicier price of that trio makes good sense.
Race 2 is another maiden claimer, this time in a sprint. Again, don’t shy from prices, but realize in a field of 6 there’s no way to blow up the tote. That is, unless first-timer from obscure connections Raku gets overlooked. First-time starters have won 9 of 32 MCLs all-time in Spring Meets at this 6-furlong distance, including 24-1 bomber Thestarvingartist that we warned you about last week. By comparison, GP shippers have 7 wins and Fair Grounds raiders 5, while in pursuit of the first-timers for dominance at this class and distance. Horses exiting sprint preps have a 2-to-1 edge over those turning back from routes among those that have started and are competing at this class/distance. Pedigree-wise, LA Freeway and Tall Boy both are bred for the Kee Poly. Tall Boy was fifth here last fall to Kentucky Derby hopeful General A Rod.
While prices have been the story in MCLs, starter allowances like we see in Race 3 have historically been about mismatches and winning chalk. The average winner in these races all-time in Spring Meets has been 3-1, less than half the average price of all winners on Poly during that time. 17 of the last 21 such Spring races went to horses 3-1 or less on the tote. Gallant Eagle is the 5-2 morning line favorite and has that big class edge that often reigns in starter allowances. At 1-1/8 miles, his superior European stamina pedigree should rule the day. The alternative is to play a “run-back” horse making his second start of the meet. In Spring Meet starter allowances in 2011, 2012 and 2013 we’ve seen at least 1 winner each meet (twice 2) making that quick turnaround. Never On Time and Five Afleet both wheel back on 12 days’ rest.
Race 4 is a non-winners of 2 lifetime claimer routing on the main track. We’ve already had 5 of these N2Ls at the meet, all won between 9-2 and 9-1 odds – despite a field size of 7.8 per race. So that’s fairly boxcars. Ken McPeek will try to start a roll of “run-back” winners second time at the meet with Frazier’s Pegasus. But note while McPeek is the master of this maneuver in the Fall Meet – he’s done it an amazing 20 times during that stand – he’s had only 4 Spring Meet run-back winners. As the 2-1 morning line favorite from a wide draw, maybe this is one we can beat? Give a longshot look to Shimmy, by the silent assassin sire Indygo Shiner, last year’s toast of the longshots at Keeneland. It’s a race to be creative.
Race 5 is a classy third-level turf allowance route. Gulfstream shippers have won 6 of the 8 turf allowances at the meet, the other 2 won by Woodbine layoff horses from the fall. Moro Tap and Cummings Road are your GP turf raiders and both appear well-placed. Valentino Beauty returns from a Woodbine winter vacation. If looking to get outside the GP/WO runners, Grand Arch in post 2 has sharp turf-riding Joe Rocco Jr. up. He won 3 grass races opening weekend on the turf, all on the front end, at 9-2, 14-1 and 25-1.
When World Is Watching won Saturday’s 3-year-old MSW route, he became only the second first-time starter ever to do so in this category on the Polytrack from 41 races. If lightning is to strike twice in today’s Race 6 MSW route for 3YOs, Act of Heroism will have to have the stars aligned. Trainer Ken McPeek has won 5 of these Spring MSW 3YO routes, most of any trainer, and 2 of those came with horses coming off of dirt preps ala I’mbetterthangood. He’s had the misfortunate of facing eventual stakes runner-ups Knock Em Flat and Vinceremos in recent maiden tries. Pedigree buffs will enjoy Special Agent’s appearance as a son of Kentucky Oaks heroine Secret Status. His running lines include Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend and Bay Shore champ Coup de Grace. Gulfstream shippers have won 21 of 41 such events, 3 times more than any other circuit, which bodes well for Conquest Top Gun, Sportscaster, Special Agent, Sharp Rick and For Goodness Sake. And here’s wishing best of luck to my good friend and colleague – Lexington’s own – Tom Hammond of NBC Sports, part-owner of Sportscaster.
The Race 8 finale offers a full field of very in-form horses, especially for a basement-level $10,000 claiming sprint. Four exit wins, 3 exit runner-ups. Turfway-prepped runners have won 4 of the 5 $10k claimers at the meet so far. But 8 of the 12 entrants in this race can make that claim from TP. Seven of 10 all-time Spring Meet $10k claimers at this 6-1/2 furlong distance have been won by horses exiting sprint preps. That cuts the TP sprinters to Shoes for Jlo, Aghamora, Starmy, Bye Bye Bunting and Mirka. This looks like a spread race for the multi-race wagers.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 7 is a split division of Race 5, so many of the same trends apply. The Gulfstream shippers here include Live in Joy and Kalamos, the latter coming out of strong heats for Bill Mott and clearly the horse to beat in my estimation.
I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but since Fall 2006, Kitten’s Joy – sire of Cup of Joy and Live in Joy, has sired only 4 winners on the Keeneland turf at a distance longer than 1 mile.
Ol Army scratched from stakes company on Saturday to re-enter in this spot figures to contest a very hot pace. And while 10 of the meet’s first 13 turf races have been won by horses within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile, this race figures to set up for a closer.
Give me Kalamos to make the last move a winning one in the Wednesday co-feature.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.