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 Friday, April 18, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Emollient goes for the career Keeneland trifecta today when the G1 Spinster and G1 Ashland winner looks to add the G3 Doubledogdare Stakes to her local legend. If successful, she’ll join Informed Decision and Wise Dan as the only 3-time stakes winners on the Keeneland Polytrack. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith returns for the mount.
We'll see if Graham Motion can continue his hot week going after 3 scores on Thursday!
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: A fine spring day, even if a bit cloudy, is forecasted with temps in the upper 60s. TGIF!
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 opens the card with $50,000 upper-level claiming routers in the main track. In the 12 such previous offerings during Spring Meets, only 1 winner was making his seasonal debut and 10 of the 12 winners had a prep race in March or April. The only horses in this group to have a race within that timeframe is Ginny’s Grey and Elegant Missy, and they could have a recent fitness edge.
A 1-3/16 miles “marathon maiden” goes as Race 2, and it’s only the fourth such offering in the Poly era. That said, there’s nothing of trends to go on by the class/distance. But pedigrees and trainers should matter the farther they go in handicapping theory. Note that Arch has sired 4 winners at 9F or longer on the Kee Poly, including a pair of 9F G2 Fayette Handicap winners in Blame and Newsdad. He’s represented here by Arch Pearl. None of the other sires in this race have had a 9F+ Poly winner at Keeneland to date. However, a couple of grandsires in this race have been quite successful with this trip/surface offspring, namely Pulpit (grandsire of First Beach) and Smart Strike (grandsire of Federal Agent). On pedigree, this trio may be best equipped for the trip. Federal Agent’s trainer Neil Howard won a 9F MSW during the 2013 Fall Meet in a similar kind of spot.
We go to the other extreme in Race 3 with a 5-1/2 furlong turf sprint. With field sizes of 8 or less in turf sprints at Kee since Fall 2006, 75% winners were within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile and 90% within 3 lengths. Those numbers are only 30% and 38% when the field is 9 or more – so the impact of field size on the race shape of turf sprints is immense. Early speed should be effective here. Fleet-footed Bisque and Char Topper may simply be too fast for these and you get perhaps the two best turf riders at Keeneland in Rosie Napravnik and Julien Leparoux. Looks like a two-deep play for multi-race wagers. None of the previous 57 turf sprints during that span were won by horses first-time in from overseas, so Thunder Strike would make some recent history if successful.
Race 4 is an open $25,000 claiming sprint on the main track. We’ve seen similar races in the 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 meets go to “run-back” horses making their second starts at the meet. That list of winners includes a Wayne Rice-Arienne Cox production last Spring at 24-1 and they’ll try it again with Laila Dundee, a duel and fade fifth here April 6. Courtly Flyer is the race’s other run-back option, and a winner over the track last April for $10,000 when trained by Buff Bradley. Fair Grounds shippers historically have fared well in this situation and Lucky Mary G would appear well-placed. Remembermealways could become the fourth Delta Downs prepper to win at the meet – after there were only 3 the entire history of the Poly era from that locale prior.
Before you handicap Race 5, note that favorites have lost 13 straight maiden claiming sprints during Kee Spring Meets and the first 5 such winners this meet have been – hold onto your binoculars – 5/1, 31/1, 26/1, 24/1 and 9/1. That’s merely a 19-1 average. Dirt-prepped horses hold a 26-14-13 edge over turf and synthetic preppers. More first-time starters (9) have won these races at this 6-furlong distance than any particular feeder track (Gulfstream 7, Fair Grounds 5). Rookies here are Cocico and Go Gamecocks, the latter’s sire Tale of the Cat ranking as one of the premier sprint sires in this Keeneland Polytrack era. Go Gamecocks’ trainer Tim Girten has won 2 races at the meet and is making a nice impression. 70 percent of these winners have been within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile, so experienced or not, you hope to have some contact with the pace. No “run-backs” have won in this situation as War Ready will attempt.
Pedigree players can’t wait to see first-timer Ruefully in Race 6. Out of the bluehen mare Ruthian, this is a sister to Rutherienne, Ruthenia and a laundry list of goone ones. First-time starters have won 2 of the first 5 MSWs at the meet for 3YOs, so it’s within reason. Gulfstream preppers and first-time starters account for nearly 60% of these Spring 3YO MSW sprints all-time. None of the 13 past 6-1/2 furlong offerings in this situation has been won by a route-prepper, something Ready Player One will attempt at what figures to be well-bet odds. La Madera also tries that turn-back bid. This looks like a very good place for a rookie on paper, either Ruefully or So Festive perhaps the most eye-catching. The latter’s trainer Graham Motion already has a 3YO MSW sprint debut winner at the meet – the highly impressive Watery Moon.
Races 7 and 10 are entry-level turf route allowances. Favorites are 0-9 in turf route allowances so far at the meet with a 7-1 average winner. The first 10 turf allowances of the meet have had a common theme – either Gulfstream preppers (6) or Woodbine layoff runners (3) have accounted for 9 of them. Six of the 9 were won basically wire to wire and only one legitimate “closer” has scored. In the Race 7 division: Midnight Notes and Red Vine provide the power from Gulfstream, while Mt Tronador represents the freshness from Woodbine. Midnight Notes trainer Wayne Catalano already has turf allowance win at the Meet (Marine Patrol) in from GP. Meanwhile, Rei runs back second time at the meet with both GP and WO form on the resume and would seem a logical contender. That narrows a bulky field of 10 down to a manageable quartet to shop. As for the Race 10 division: Transcend, Twigazuri Strait, Honor the Kitten and Happy Fella carry the banner for Gulfsteam. The finale includes Wise Dan’s little brother Casino Dan in his first start since June. Keeneland clockers had big reviews for his last move.
Race 8 may be the toughest race on the card. About 28% of all Spring Meet Poly route allowances have been won by horses making their first start of the year, a pretty strong performance when you consider the obstacle there. Frivolous pulled off such a move on Sunday.
Star Pearl will try to make that return from vacation a success for Graham Motion. Fair Grounds shippers have been almost non-existent, winning just 3 of 40 offerings, and Oaklawn raiders even less so with 1 win. Turf-prepped runners own a solid 19-11-10 edge over dirt and synthetic preppers. Lonesome Town and Seanchai make a lot of sense coming out of the same GP turf tilt and may be where it’s best to narrow and hope to be right, if not adding Star Pearl.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The Doubledogdare has been run 7 times on the Polytrack, and today’s featured Race 9 would appear to be all about Emollient. Twice she’s rebounded at Keeneland after disappointing efforts to blitz the competition in the 2013 Ashland and Spinster. Her sire Empire Maker has been responsible for 6 route stakes wins on the Keeneland Polytrack, most of any sire. She’s obviously built and bred for this assignment.
The field also includes the strong-working Stathnaver, who goes here instead of defending her title next week in the G3 Bewitch. She could become the seventh horse to win stakes on both the Polytrack and turf at Keeneland.
Given her tactical speed and the short stretch run at 1 1/16 miles, Emollient should be perfectly suited to fire her best shot. Let’s work her on top of trifectas, using Strahnaver’s late move for third. Punch up a 10-all-11 and let the good times roll.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.