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.
What to Watch for Today: Star fillies sprint 7 furlongs in the G2 Lexus Raven Run, a race that has attracted a strong contingent of runners who have been battling in New York’s key divisional races like the Acorn, Test and Prioress..
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Weather: Fast and firm conditions await on a cool fall day with temps in the mid-50s.
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!
Favorites are 7-for-10 in opening races this meet and that’s not just a numerical coincidence. Racing offices place the race order in conjunction with where the most money will be bet (larger fields later in the day, for instance). Race 1 field sizes have averaged less than 7 starters on dirt, and this 5-horse field looks like a heavy favorite in Donita’s Ruler. Toss in leading rider Julien Leparoux and there’s not much to think about. Lotta Attitude comes in from the once-formidable Presque Isle Downs prep, but those PID runners have been shut out so far this meet.
Maiden claiming sprinters compete in Race 2, and Churchill preppers have owned these, winning half of those offered. You prefer to be forwardly placed going 6 furlongs. Brett Park, Majestic Ride and Leflore County are your CD horses, the latter two appear to have more early speed and Majestic Ride’s sire Candy Ride continues to sizzle with his offspring on this new dirt at Keeneland.
Race 3 is a rare 1-1/8 miles dirt contest, this one for older maiden special weight performers. Don’t overplay the stamina factor here as 11 of the 23 winners of the 9F races on the new dirt surface were exiting 1-turn preps. That’s important in this race with so many stretch-out types. Decide the race on other factors in other words. Of the 10 older MSWs held in Fall Meets on dirt, Ellis Park preppers have held their own with 2 wins (Churchill 3, Saratoga 2). Seagrass comes in for Ellis and tries to give trainer Neil Howard a second dirt route win of the meet after Eagle’s score on Sunday. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer looks for his first Keeneland win since the 2013 Beaumont Stakes when his Rastanora takes part.
The Race 4 condition is a rather new one to Keeneland, but not around the country. It’s a dual condition that basically is a non-winners of 3 lifetime claimer, but if you’re age 3, you can run no matter what your resume includes. Every horse in this race is entered under the N3L part of the condition. Trainer Ron Moquett scored a nice winner in the Thursday nightcap for his first of the season and adds here with Tizsational. Horses turning back from route preps to 7 furlong claimers have a 9-6 edge on those exiting sprint preps on the new dirt. I include 7-1/2 furlong turf races around 2 turns as routes, which means Tizsational. Littlebitofsense and See Through may fit best here.
Promising 2-year-old MSW sprinters battle in Race 5. Of the 8 offered on dirt in Fall Meets at 6 furlongs, first-time starters have won 4 times and note that no Saratoga or Churchill preppers have won. That’s not to say they can’t; but rather to say don’t overbet them just on where they came from. The Kentucky Downs and Ellis shippers in this race may be just as good. Trainer Kenneally (Urban Bourbon) already has 2 MSW juvenile scores at the meet.
Turf sprinters dash in Race 6 for allowance-level horses. Turf sprints have not been a bad place historically for run-back horses making a second attempt at the meeting. Bottle Rocket could be live in that respect and was second to stakes star Hootenanny here in the Spring. Eduardo Caramori is a 2-time turf sprint stakes winner at Keeneland and knows what it takes to win on this surface. He puts Corps of Discovery on the lawn for the first time. Zee Bros won a similar N2X turf allowance sprint here last Fall Meet in his turf debut.
Two-year-old route allowance performers go 1-1/16 miles on the dirt in Race 7. These are the kind of intriguing juvenile races where you could see the next star on the Triple Crown trail. After all, the likes of Animal Kingdom and Will Take Charge in recent years have springboarded out of this meet. Three absolute sires to watch are represented here with Candy Ride (Gun Runner), Tapit (Rafting) and Uncle Mo (Uncle Jerry). Each has had serious success on this new Keeneland dirt. Meanwhile, Bandwidth’s debut win at Churchill in September looked even better when runner-up Synchrony came back here to break his maiden very impressively last week for Donnie K. Von Hemel.
A deep turf allowance goes as Race 8, and 2013 Valley View Stakes winner Overheard returns to the scene of her career topper. Jockey Jose Lezcano was a turf asset here in the Spring Meet and has 1 Fall score under his belt so far. The 2013 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner, Kittens’ Dumplings, also could return in this race but will need to get in off the also-eligible list. Pedigree player have to respect the Kitten’s Joys over this 1-1/16 miles trip that’s been there best on the Kee turf, and don’t sleep on longshot Samiam, by Dynaformer, who is the top turf sire on this course since Fall 2006.
Starter allowance runners close the Saturday card in Race 10. Don’t reach for big prices here as favorites have a stronghold nationally and we haven’t seen a starter allowance winner over 5-1 at the Spring or Fall Meets in 2015. No horse who prepped at Thisteldown last out has won a race at Keeneland since our database began in Fall 2006, so perhaps Tanner’s Popsicle is the weakest link of a solid group of favorites.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
Race 9 is the featured G2 Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. In terms of the stakes history, we don’t trust the data too much as this race was on Polytrack from 2006-2013. Last year’s winner, Taris, came in from her Penn National base, something exceptional and rare at Keeneland.
What we do know is leading Keeneland dirt sire Candy Ride has both Ahh Chocolate and Paid Up Subscriber among the entries. Neither would be any sort of surprise, fitting with this group by most handicapping measures. If either gets a boost from the pedigree and fires, look out.
Sarah Sis would appear to be lone speed, but the Ingrid Mason runners this meet have nearly all broken sharp, set the tone and faded after 3-4 furlongs. Obviously if she comes back to the field, as I will handicap she will, the question becomes does the race fall apart or be overhauled by the pressers and stalkers who get first run?
The favorite Bar of Gold figures to get a super trip just behind Sarah Sis and pounce. She’ll be a multi-race single and a straight bet if we can get 2-1 or more.
The only place where you can get my full-card selections every day is in the BUZZ Report at Horseplayernow.com – subscription plans cost approximately $2 per day and bring me and my team of 9 handicappers to your service.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.