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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 2015 FALL MEET PREVIEW (Part 1 of 2)
Excitement abounds each season as Keeneland’s opening day arrives for a Spring or Fall Meet. But the bounce in the collective steps of horseplayers truly has an extra lift these days with the Breeders’ Cup looming on the Lexington horizon. I’ll use this space each of the racing days of the season to put you on the winning trends using both historical analysis as well as updated meet information. But before we hit the daily previews that kick off on Friday, this marks the first of a two-part season preview.
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THE DIRT ON THE DIRT
Two meets have been completed since Keeneland’s return to a dirt main track last Fall. Favorites have won 90 of 224 races for a 40.2 percent strike rate. Compare that to 30.1 percent winning favorites on the Polytrack over its eight-year run. The average $2 dirt winner has paid $11.22 since the latest surface change, while Poly winners had averaged $15.46. Field size averaged 9.49 on Polytrack all-time, but has been 7.69 in dirt races. That, as much as anything, will lead to the percentage of winning favorites ballooning and the average $2 win payout dropping.
Depending on your level of risk-reward and wagering approach, more formful results can be a blessing or a downturn. That’s up to the individual to decide.
DOES EXPERIENCE MATTER?
Only five horses have won twice over the new Keeneland dirt – Carpe Diem, Courageous Julie, Defer Heaven, Politicallycorrect and Proven Warrior (all at 9/2 or less odds) – so it’s not as though we’re seeing a slew of repeat winners. What’s more, during the 2014 Fall Meet on dirt, only 44 of the 121 race winners were horses who had a workout over the Keeneland track. The vast majority of winners were brand new to the surface, and with only a quintet of repeat winners at the two meetings so far, this dirt does not appear to be out of the norm in that it takes any sort of specialist to appreciate it.
Of the 121 dirt winners last Fall, 65 exited a dirt prep, 28 turf, 17 synthetic and 11 first-time starters.
The following sires have had 3 or more winners on the Keeneland dirt over the past 2 meets combined:
6 – Candy Ride
6 – Harlan’s Holiday (all sprints)
5 – Flatter
5 – Street Sense
5 - Speightstown
5 – Kitten’s Joy
5 - Tapit
4 – Medaglia d’Oro
4 – Distorted Humor
4 – Giant’s Causeway (3 stakes, 2 Carpe Diem & Protonico)
4 – Pulpit
3 – Malibu Moon
3 – City Zip
3 – Elusive Quality
3 – Dunkirk
3 – Pioneerof The Nile
3 – Quality Road (2 FTS)
3 – Rockport Harbor
3 – Tiznow
3 – War Front
3 – Yes It’s True
The Fall Meet on dirt played statistically more to closers than did the Spring Meet in April. When looking at the most commonly run dirt sprint (6 furlongs) and route (1-1/16 miles) distances, here are the trends:
-- 6 furlongs --
62 races held on dirt so far.
’15 Spring average winner was -.46 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
’14 Fall average winner was -.84 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
37 of 62 winners were within a half-length of the lead after the opening half-mile.
6 of 62 winners closed from more than 3-1/2 lengths back after the opening half-mile.
Only 5 of 62 winners were turning back in distance from a 2-turn prep most recently. Note that those turning back from 2-turn preps won just 1 of 20 races at 6-1/2 furlongs. At 7 furlongs, however, they show vast improvement, winning 16 of 51 offerings.
Route to Sprint Winners on Dirt (exiting 2-turn preps)
6f 5 of 62
6.5f 1 of 20
7f 16 of 51
Total 22 of 133
-- 1-1/16 miles –
63 races held on dirt so far.
’15 Spring average winner was -1.43 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
’14 Fall average winner was -2.71 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
20 of 63 winners were within a half-length of the lead after the opening half-mile.
12 of 63 winners were more than 3-1/2 lengths back after the opening half-mile.
15 of 63 won stretching out from 1-turn prep
TAKING IT TO THE TURF
In turf sprints, beware the late runners. More Fall Meet turf sprint winners (12) since 2006 have come from 5 or more lengths back after the opening half-mile than were within a length (9) of the front at that juncture. And at Keeneland, that means just a furlong left to run! Favorites are just 4-for-24 during that Fall span in turf sprints with fields of 10 or more starters. The average winner in full-field, Fall turf sprints at Keeneland has been 10.6-to-1 odds.
The average winner in middle-distance turf races (8-9 furlongs) during Fall Meets at Keeneland since 2006 has been 3.9 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Just 33 of 205 such races were won by horses racing on the lead or within a half-length after the opening half-mile. More than twice as many (67) were successful from 5 or more lengths back at that junction.
Even deeper closers have ruled the long turf races (9.5-12 furlongs) during this same period of Fall Meets. The average winner comes from a whopping 6.7 lengths off the lead after the first half-mile. Just 3 of 43 such events were won by horses on the lead or within a half-length after the first half-mile – and not a single one since the 2010 Fall Meet.
Part 2 of the Fall Meet preview will be posted Thursday and will include looks at the human connections, top-feeding circuits to watch and more!