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 Wednesday, October 16, 2013
What to Watch for Today: Put on your pedigree glasses and get ready to route today as this 9-race card is loaded with distance tests. Six route contests, including 1-1/4 miles and 1-1/2 miles tests, are in the offing. The Arlington Park shippers got back on the beam last week with a good showing at the lower class levels after being MIA on opening week at higher levels.
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: Showers are expected with a high temperature in the mid-60s after expected overnight showers as well. 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: 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!
Maiden claimers open the card in Race 1 and they’ve been a complete mixed bag this Fall Meet when it comes to recent preps. No circuit has produced more than 2 of the 10 winners to date, while 9 of 10 were horses with at least some experience – only one first-time starter at this level. All five sprints at this level have been won almost in carbon-copy style by horses sitting 2 to 2-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. Legomyborrego and Handshakesnkisses project to get that kind of positioning in this field. This is one area the Presque Isle shippers have struggled mightily, winning only one maiden claimer at Keeneland Fall in the past 3 meets, and none this season.
Race 2 is a classy, second-level allowance route at 1-1/8 miles on Polytrack. More than half of the 81 Polytrack route allowances we’ve seen in past Fall seasons have been taken by horses exiting a turf prep. When you look at 9F races, it’s more than two-thirds in favor of turf-to-Poly surface movers. Volcano Run figures to get bet for the Ramsey-Maker team, but note 71 of 81 winners in these races exited a route prep. Fair to say, however, that Volcano Run is a route runner based on his past performances and just tossed into a turf sprint experiment last time by former trainer Linda Rice, who has a propensity for the turf sprint game. Arc Above certainly is bred to handle the trip and trainer Clement is a four-time Poly route allowance winner at 1-1/8 miles at Keeneland, tied for most wins in the category with Shug McGaughey, who sends out Norumbega.
Presque Isle shippers have accounted for 6 of the first 18 claiming races of the meet, twice as much as the next-best circuit (Arlington, 3). Keep that in mind as you handicap Race 3. I’m So Vain and No Free Ride enter off PID efforts that look competitive on paper. Seven of 8 claiming routes this meet have been won by horses who prepped at a mile or longer last time out. Watch the tote on Snit Fit for California-based trainer Bob Hess, Jr. He’s had success at Keeneland over the years but 6 of his 11 winners here in the Poly era were favorites and none over 7-1 (average 7-2 odds).
Race 4 is a $20,000 claimer like the previous event, but for 3-year-olds at 1-1/8 miles. We have had a single race like this in each of the past 3 Fall Meets, and like we see with some of the cheaper 9-furlong races on Polytrack, speed is more important here than at the more competitive levels. All 3 winners were within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Here’s where the Hess barn might prove more effective with Liberty Wing than in the previous race with Snit Fit. Note the rider here, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux. Of Hess’ previously mentioned 11 Keeneland winners in the Poly era, he had Kent D riding 10 of them. Horses running back second time at the meet (I call them “run-backs”) have done very well in these races at the class/distance in the past, so beware longshot Bethel on a major class drop. Pedigree fans will enjoy Contempt of Court, by Lawyer Ron out of the millionaire mare Jostle, one of my favorites.
Maiden claimers route on the Polytrack on Race 5. Deep closers have won 4 of the 5 offered this meeting and the same 4 out of 5 ratio applies to horses coming off of turf preps and out of route preps. Pedigree wise Flashy Bertie and Fancy Hat offer appeal and both exit turf route preps of interest. While trainer Ken McPeek has had a slow meet, expect him to pick up steam late in the meet as he typically does during the Fall at Keeneland. He’s strong traditionally in maiden route races and Doctor Vickie Lynn drops in class after some decent tries vs. tougher. If she can overcome the outside draw, she should be live. Trainer Michael Matz of Barbaro fame brings Party Starter in from Delaware Park. He scored a maiden claiming route win during the 2012 Fall Meet with a Delaware raider as well, so he knows who fits in these spots and should be respected.
Early speed traditionally plays strong in “non-winners of 2 lifetime” sprints on the Polytrack like we see in Race 6. Don’t be afraid of a price as the average winner in 21 such events in past Fall Meets has been a whopping 9-1 odds and favorites are just 4-for-21. Meanwhile, 16 of 21 exited sprint preps and only 4 prepped on dirt. Horses like Spill, EM Maximus, Carson’s Crown, Quite The Face and You’re My Buddy fit the profile and it’s a matter of pace projection as to which may be more forwardly placed that could tell the tale. Also, check the toteboard for prices on that group as a juicy winner in this category has been prevalent.
Race 7 is a gimmicky kind of race, a starter allowance at 1-1/4 miles on Polytrack. These marathons often lure a specialist or two capable of the distance while others struggle with it. Keeneland has offered 15 previous starter allowances at 1-3/16 miles or 1-1/4 miles in the Polytrack era, and Helicopter returns to try and win his third such race for Larry Rivelli. He won this event in Fall 2009 and again in Spring 2010, but the 20-time winner has fallen on harder times of late. Rivelli claimed him back in June, so you know he’s live. Pedigrees matter at 10 furlongs, which makes you take a second look at Thunder Affair, Bold Choice and Keniko to handle this trip better than most.
Race 9 is a $10,000 claiming sprint to close the card and this has been a haven this meeting for Presque Isle shippers at the lower claiming levels. The AP runners gained traction last week after disappointing terribly at higher levels on opening weekend. The more blue-collar the race, the more it appears the AP runners fit better than vs. the heavyweights this meet. Closers from an average of nearly 3-1/2 lengths back after the opening half-mile have done well in these elongated sprints at this lower class level (compared to speed in straight 6-furlong races). It might all be a moot point if 10-time winner in 16 starts Golden Galaxy brings his A-game. He’s a win machine for the connections that everyone fears to play against, Maker-Ramsey.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report: Wednesday’s Race 8 allowance feature at 1-1/8 miles on turf is a unique race in that not a single horse in the main body of 12 entrants has ever run on the Keeneland lawn. Admittedly, it’s been a strange season to grasp through 8 days when it comes to the Keeneland turf course. We usually just circle the New York types here and move on, but it’s been a smattering of Ellis Park, Churchill and even Presque Isle…synthetic-to-turf in that instance. Plus, the turf has been fair to all running styles from day to day and class to class.
You’ll need a traditional handicapping approach to this event.
Todd Pletcher brings Skyfall to the dance but her only two career wins came in off-the-turf races that I generally disregard until the horse proves it to me again. The shipper worth noting for me is Tabreed, who twice tried to rally at Saratoga and Monmouth on traditionally speed-friendly grass courses and should appreciate a more lush green in Lexington. I’ll take Tabreed to win and place.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.