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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, October 23, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Closing week kicks off with a 9-race card and it’s our annual reminder that you can expect an average of 2-3 run-back winners per day over the final 4 days of action. Run-backs are horses making their second start of the meet. We had 11 run-backs win during the final 4 days of the 2012 Fall Meet, 12 during that span in 2011 and 13 in 2010 to show the consistency. And note trainer Kenny McPeek’s potency in this category with 19 said winners in Fall Meets during the Polytrack era. No other trainer has more than 6.
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Weather: A crisp day with temps barely reaching 50 degrees is forecasted with partly cloudy skies and a 20 percent chance of rain. 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!
We open a card for the seventh time this meet with a maiden claiming route, a familiar launching pad in Race 1 if you’ve played this meeting consistently. Favorites are 0-for-8 in maiden claiming routes at the meet 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. The aforementioned McPeek barn, which got hot last week, captured Sunday’s MCL route with Frazier’s Pegasus and offers the Brazilian-bred Roommate today. Street Walkin and Capriani are the turf-prepped runners in this heat and both look very playable on paper for quality barns. Race 3 also is a MCL route and the same trends can be applied. Turf-prepped runners there include Geneva Lake, Speedy Kitten, K to the Croft and Salt River. Do note that while run-backs have been extremely effective late in Fall Meets like this, the weakest class for their success has been with maiden claiming races.
Indiana Downs raiders lit up the board with upsets in 2 of the 4 non-winners of two lifetime claimers we’ve had at this Fall Meet. Key To Fame (18-1) and Turncoat (19-1) carried the Indy torch earlier in the season, and now Jon Don is the lone Indy raider in Race 2 to eyeball. 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. In a field of 7, don’t expect a huge price, but don’t settle on chalk, either. The average winner in 6-furlong sprints on Poly with field sizes small like this races less than a length off the lead after the opening half-mile. Look for a horse forwardly placed at generous odds.
Basement-level $10,000 claimers square off in Race 4 and this has been a place this meet for Presque Isle and Churchill preppers, who each own 3 wins among the 8 races offered. Claiming routes historically are a prime run-back consideration and trainer Tevis McCauley has had success in this area in the past. His entrant Eye of the Eagle could be very dangerous if he handles the distance. I love the workout between races since his Oct. 4 appearance here, showing intent to win this run-back bid. The average winner in $10k claiming routes is about 5 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, so start at the back of the pack and work forward in your handicapping if you don’t like Eye of the Eagle, who should be prominent early. It might be wise to work in some deep closers with him. The Race 9 nightcap also is a $10k claimer, but a sprint event. Several key players in the finale exit the same Oct. 4 race in which Strong Resolve, the winner, came right back to win here last week on the class rise to the $16k claiming.
I’ll predict one of the run-back winners today comes in Race 5, a starter allowance where La Stupenda and Black Tulip exit the same race here Oct. 11. Starter allowances traditionally play well to run-back winners and we already saw one last week go to Jamraa in a second start of the short season. Despite an average pace for the class and distance, La Stupenda rallied to score in hand, and Black Tulip managed to close well enough from farther back without the aid of a rapid pace. Basilo’s Thunder has won 2 straight bids in starter allowance company in Chicago, while Lady Susan has alternated win-loss over her last 5 starts and holds solid form.
Older maiden special weight turf performers battle in Race 6. Kentucky Downs shippers have won 3 of the last 5 of these limited engagements offered, including Mt Tronador here on Saturday. Each of the last 5 winners has had a turf prep at 7 furlongs or longer most recently. Grand Giant exits a sharp second at Kentucky Downs for Mike Maker and figures to be well-spotted. He’s by supersire Giant’s Causeway, whose offspring love this turf. Uncoupled stablemate Cage Fighter and also-eligibles Large Scale and Catbird Seat deserve longer looks on the KD angle.
Race 7 is a 2-year-old maiden special weight route. Trainers Ken McPeek and Bill Mott each already have a 2YO MSW route win at the meet and look to add another with Streethomealabama and Turtle River, respectively. A mild preference goes to horses exiting route preps, having won 21 of 36 such races offered in the Poly era. Trainer Eoin Harty brings Spangled Banner into this race in one of the barn’s strong suits – maiden route races. The winner of this race should come from this potent trio of McPeek, Mott and Harty charges. Possible favorite Beth Ann’s Kitten has failed three times as post-time favorite in her career, finishing second each time. Trainer Sally Schu, subbing for suspended Kellyn Gorder, has won 2 maiden routes at the meet and tries for another with Sequester.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Keeneland allowance turf miles have been havens over the years for horses coming back off of layoffs. We’ll see if that continues in Race 8 when two key contenders return from freshenings, namely Middleburg and Bold Challenger. Christophe Clement and the percolating barn of Ken McPeek are represented and both highly capable in this spot.
Through the first 11 turf allowances at the meet, the big story has been the lack of New York influence. Typically we see the Saratoga and Belmont shippers excel in these spots, but Ellis Park, Presque Isle and Woodbine lead the way with 2 wins apiece, hardly any regional dominance to notice. Sire Kitten’s Joy has sired 5 Keeneland turf mile winners since Fall 2006, most of any sire, and is represented by Bingo Kitten. But Stormy Atlantic and Smart Strike are dangerous turf mile sires at Kee as well and that gives reason to consider Batten the Hatches and Farmers’ Club.
I love the rail post going a mile on turf and layoff horses who are fresh, which adds up to Middleburg under the meet’s leading rider, Rosie Napravnik. I’ll use the pedigree players underneath, Bingo Kitten, Batten the Hatches and Farmers’ Club.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.