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.
Keeneland Keys for Saturday, April 20, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The final Saturday date of the Spring Meet, which runs through next Friday, offers a last call for potential Kentucky Derby – and Oaks – prospects. The Grade 3 Lexington Stakes, featuring Grade 1-winning filly Pure Fun, anchors a dual-stakes card that also includes the Giant’s Causeway for turf sprinters.
Follow me on raceday two ways, either in the live RaceChat 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: Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s are in store for a cool Saturday. 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: We go race-by-race with handicapping angles and trends to help point you toward the winners. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Race 1 is a situation where horses turning back in distance from their most recent prep have been very successful. Of the last 16 Sprint Meet maiden claiming races at 7 furlongs, 12 have been won by horses exiting a longer prep race, including both held so far this meeting. Scealieie, Psalm Singer and Soot Z would be the strongest on paper fitting that profile. Trainer Ken McPeek owns a record 4 wins in this type of situation and saddles Pslam Singer looking for a fifth.
At the $10,000 or less claiming level going 7 furlongs on Polytrack like we see in Race 2 and Race 10, horses with tactical and early speed have dominated past Spring Meet events. The average winner has been just 1 length off the lead after the opening half-mile, and there have been no huge closers to rally from more than 4 lengths back with 3 furlongs left to run. In Race 2, Trainer Wesley Ward tries to go from turf sprint dash to 7 furlongs on Poly with Strike the Tiger, and that’s a move that’s worked three times before for him on the Kee Poly. Strike the Tiger’s sold win here in the Fall at 5-1/2 furlongs ranks in the top-third all-time in final clockings for that distance over this surface and was about 3-4 lengths faster than average. He appears dangerous along with the speedy Fleurdefortyfour. As for the Race 10 division, Suyeta and Cane Garden Bay love the course and fit well on the speed profile. All-time leading Polytrack winner New Believer aims for a ninth Poly win but appears to be slipping in form and strangely dropped to $10,000 claiming while losing jockey Joel Rosario to Suyeta.
All five Spring Meet $20,000 claimers at 6 furlongs in Spring Meets have been won in front-running style with the average winner 2-1/4 lengths in front after the opening half-mile. This is as speedy of a profile as I’ve ever filtered in our database. The “speed of the speed” in this race, which has plenty of early pace, may be able to simply survive and the closers disadvantaged at the trip. Sunrise Ridge may be the fastest of the fast early and too quick to catch. The alternative is to lean to Fair Grounds shippers, who have won 4 of the 7 races this meet for claimers at the $16,000-$25,000 ranges. Wisestar has early foot in from Fair Grounds, as does In Step Dancer.
Race 4 is for turf maiden routers, and trainer Rusty Arnold has had good success in this limited division at Keeneland, winning 3 times (tied for most with Ken McPeek), and he saddles Tiz Now My Choice who returns on 15 days’ rest after having no pace to close into here April 5. He could improve greatly with blinkers. He’ll have to beat His Race to Win, aptly named, who is a son of outstanding Keeneland turf sire Stormy Atlantic, as underrated as any sire for the Keeneland meet as you’ll find. In fact, Stormy Atlantic has sired no less than 3 turf maiden breakers at Keeneland, most of any sire.
Allowance runners head the marathon 1-5/8 miles distance on the Polytrack in Race 5. We’ve only had 7 races on the Polytrack all-time at this distance. Five of the 7 winners raced within 2 lengths of the early lead after the first half-mile, so tactical speed has lasted. Only 1 pronounced, deep closer has won. No dirt preppers have won and 5 of the 7 winners moved from turf preps to the Polytrack. Six of the 7 winners prepped at 1-1/8 miles or longer. Only Myhourseofcourse and Grandstand prepped at 9 furlongs or more on turf last time. On paper, I love the pedigree for River Lemon for this distance and he figures very prominently in the outcome.
Race 6 is a turf allowance that historically have been strongholds for the Gulfstream Park turf preppers. They’ve won 5 of the 13 held this Spring Meet as well, easily most of any circuit. The quartet of Godard, Southern Parkway, Big Blue Spirit and Which Market all appear to be good fits on the trends and current form. Southern Parkway and Film Shot both competed here last Spring Meet in one of the faster 1-1/16 miles turf allowances in our database that goes back to 2007.
Horses exiting dirt preps have won 6 of the last 7 entry level allowance sprints at 7 furlongs during Keeneland Spring Meets, including both so far this season. Keep that in mind in Race 7, where only Rebel Lady last raced on dirt recently, and Yellow Boat, who raced on dirt 1-1/2 years ago when last seen. The way Jonathan Sheppard’s horses are running at the meet, even the Penn National PA-bred shipper Rebel Lady should be dangerous. She ran a good third here last Fall Meet on the lead. Two-thirds of the winners of these Spring 7F first-level allowances have been won by horses on or within a length of the lead after the opening half-mile.
Race 8 is the co-featured $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes. Each of the last five winners of this race on turf has prepped in a turf sprint, including 3 of those 5 exiting Fair Grounds turf sprints. That bodes well for Extravaganza, the lone New Orleans raider. His trainer Mike Stidham won this race last Spring with Flash Mash. Fairly deep closers have dominated this race in recent years on turf as the last 4 winners have been an average of 4-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, pretty significant when you’re talking about a 5-1/2 furlong distance on turf.
Feature Race Play: No race on the Keeneland Polytrack has been any more chaotic than the Lexington Stakes. The six editions of this race since 2007 have averaged a 27-1 winner and no winner paid less than $13.60. Sprinkle in 70-1 and 40-1 bombs and you have yourselves the definition of a head-scratcher.
Todd Pletcher won this race 3 years in a row from 2008-’10 and even he averaged a 14-1 mutuel during that streak. Pletcher aims for another Lexington coup when he saddles dynamic April 6 allowance winner Winning Cause, whose 12-length rally for the win was the second-deepest close ever to win at 7 furlongs on this surface from more than 400 races. If Winning Cause lives up to his name, he’ll become the first Lexington winner to stretch out off a sprint prep in the Polytrack era.
My lean to this race is on visuals and not trends as Examen has really caught my eye in his last 2 starts in California. I’m taking Examen and Winning Cause at what look to be appealing prices, but certainly not the chaos that has reigned over Lexingtons past.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.