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 Saturday, April 18, 2015
What to Watch for Today: The third and final Saturday card of the meet features the G2 $250,000 Elkhorn for the distance turf performers, as well as the return of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf champion Hootenanny in a must-see allowance.
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Weather: Sunny skies, temps in the low 80s and a 0% chance of rain make up the forecast. Pinch me, I’m dreaming!
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 will be the third 3-year-olds & up maiden special weight of the meet, a new division this season pitting the sophomores vs. elders in April. But you need not worry about the age game, no 3YOs are entered. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has broken 3 maidens at the meet already and has Samantha Nicole in search of more. Note trainer Roger Attfield’s have been running very well in limited strikes in recent days and consider Spanish Flower in hot hands. Willburn’s kid bro A.P. Sonata goes for a Bill Mott barn that unleashed a devastating maiden winner here Friday named Speightster.
Bottom-level $10,000 claimers square off in Races 2 and 10, and speed has been at this class on dirt regardless of distance. All 4 races this meet for the $10K set have been won by horses within 1 length of the early lead after the first half-mile. In Race 2, note that Defer Heaven wired a similar race here in the Fall Meet on the new dirt. Rous trainer William Connelly won a similar race here in Spring 2012 via Turfway with a basement-level 7-furlonger. In the Race 10 split division, Ari’s Pride wheels back quickly 15 days’ rest and takes a notable class drop for a barn not afraid of the claiming consequences. Silver Morgan also plays poker on the class drop for a Ken Ramsey outfit certainly not afraid to go after a W like this.
Maiden special weight sprinters are on the marquee in Races 3 and 8 going 6 furlongs. This has been a heavy speed angle on the dirt at Keeneland. Of 13 such races held, 11 winners were within 1-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile and the average winner has been a head off the front at that stage. Sire Speightstown has broken a couple of sprint maidens on this new dirt, including the aforementioned rookie yesterday Speightster. In Race 3, his daughter Margate Gardens debuts. I was surprised to see James Graham’s 7 wins at 6 furlongs on the new dirt are the most of any rider, and he’ll try again with Ranger’s Dream. As for the Race 8 division, note trainer Bret Calhoun and jockey Robby Albarado broke a maiden here Thursday with an inside speed runner from Fair Grounds that looks a lot like Mayla on paper.
Race 4 brings together turf sprinters in allowance company. We don’t get many of these each meet as turf sprints are mostly in stakes company – usually about 2 per meeting – but this will be the third straight day this week with such an offering. Of the 11 Spring Meet turf allowances in our database, 4 have been won by horses making their first starts of the year. So a fresh horse like star Hootenanny should not be frowned upon. Field size is critical to the race shape/flow in turf sprints. With 7 or fewer runners, note 11 of 14 winners here since Fall 2006 were within 2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile (average just 1 length behind at that stage). Compare that to all turf sprints of any field where the average winner is nearly 3 lengths back after a half-mile. Julien Leparoux’s 10 turf sprint wins here since Fall ’06 easily are most of any active rider and we’ll see if he can get Saratoga Dreamer into the late mix; beating Hootenanny and Asia looks tough.
Maiden claimers go the tricky 7-furlong distance in Race 5. The MCLs this meet have been even-steven among Oaklawn, Fair Grounds and Gulfstream shippers, the latter sweeping both halves of a MCL daily double on Friday. First-time starters have won only 2 of the 25 MCL Spring Meet sprints at 7 furlongs since 2007, so make the rookies beat you at this class/distance. There are a slew of first-timers in this race, so that will help the whittling process.
Race 6 is a sensational allowance sprint that could go for a graded stakes on most any card and no one would argue. Last year’s G1 Blue Grass third-place finisher Pablo Del Monte once loved the Keeneland Polytrack; we’ll see how he dances on the dirt. He set the pace in last year’s Preakness, so there’s no reason to think he can’t adapt. As we mentioned before, James Graham has been tops at 6 furlongs on the Kee dirt and he rides the favorite Delaunay. There’s not a whole lot to go on here via the trends; just some old-fashioned handicapping.
To the turf in Race 7 for maiden special weight milers. Only 2 of 23 MSW turf races in Spring Meets since 2007 have been won by first-time starters, so demand some experience. Gulfstream preppers get the lean with more than half (12 of 23) of these wins – including 1 of 2 so far this season. Nexrad, Seeking Alpha, Key to the Bridge and Animal Kracker exit GP efforts. Chad Brown already has 5 turf wins at the meet and saddles Seeking Alpha. Bill Mott goes for a third turf win at the stand with Nexrad. Those are good places to start.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
The Race 9 Elkhorn for 1-1/2 miles turf routers carries G2 status and healthy $250,000 purse. This race has been a haven for deep closers from Gulfstream Park in recent years and I’d expect a lean in that direction once again on Saturday. That’s good news if backing Dramedy, Biz The Nurse or Unitarian, and it’s the latter I can’t wait to play.
Coming out of the 2-mile Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream, Unitarian will have no problem with the distance. Anytime I see Dynaformer in the pedigree going 1-1/2 miles on turf at Keeneland, it’s almost a blind bet for me. Then you add in a horse in good form, with world-class connections of Javier Castellano and Todd Pletcher, and it’s where I’m going to build the foundation of my wagers.
Graham Motion’s 9 wins at 1-1/2 miles on turf at Keeneland since Fall 2006 are most of any trainer and his representative here will be Holiday Star, who picked up one of those wins in the Sycamore here during the 2014 Fall Meet. He’ll be prominent in my plays under Unitarian.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.