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 Thursday, April 11, 2014
What to Watch for Today: Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan graces the stage at Keeneland in today’s featured G1 Maker’s 46 Mile. It doesn’t get any bigger than that! On the main track, the past 2 days have been very demanding on front-end speed horses as closer's have dominanted.
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Weather: Soggy conditions are possible with scattered thunderstorms expected after overnight rains. Temps will be in the 60s. Check out the track conditions and see if we’ll be on the turf!
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!
Race 1 is an upper-level $50,000 claiming route on the Polytrack. We used to see 4-5 $50k claimers a meet in the Spring, but only 1 was offered in 2013 and this is the first of 2014. Fair Grounds (8) and Gulfstream (7) have shared the wins almost equally at this class during past Springs. Field sizes average just 6.6 in $50k Spring routes, so this 6-horse field is normal – and small fields tend to emphasize early pace. Note that the average winner at this level (given the field size) is just 1-1/2 lengths off the early lead after the opening half-mile. It’s double that (3 lengths) for all route distances on the Polytrack all-time. Pace figures to come from Whatthecatdrugin. Meanwhile, San Antone is a 3-time winner over this track from 6-1/2 to 9 furlongs, including wire-to-wire and rallies from as far back as 7 lengths.
Fair Grounds shippers won 4 of the 5 $16,000 claimers offered during the 2013 Spring Meet, so that’s a good place to start in Race 2. Chinchero and Sapphire Breeze are the FG offerings in this spot. Don’t fish for a big price here if history is any indication. Since 2010, all 17 such races have been won by horses at single-digit odds and average just 3-1, about half the price of all Polytrack winners all-time. Chinchero, Bustle and Lady Susan all were winners here during the Fall Meet. Bustle may have been pace-aided as the half-mile split in her race was more than 6 lengths faster than par at the meet for the distance – setting up for her close from far back.
Race 3 is a $32,000 claiming sprint on the Polytrack. Gulfstream, turf-prepped horses have won all 4 mid-level claimers ($30-$32k) at this meet on the surface change. And in the young meet’s 3 sprints at this class level, all 3 of those GP turf preppers were trimming back from 2-turn efforts. Barzini and Tiree, both trained by Mike Maker, fit that bill in this race.
Three-year-old MSW sprinters go 7 furlongs in Race 4. Trainer Shug McGaughey broke 2 such maidens here at the age/class/distance in the Spring 2013 meet and takes a shot with come-backing Sabbatical for another. Gulfstream preppers have handled business well at this age/class with 49 winners in previous Spring Meets – compared to 24 first-time starters and 15 Fair Grounds shippers by comparison from 125 offerings. The 4 held so far this meet have seen GP runners win 3 and a single first-time starter. My Fashion and Little Gidding hail from GP in this spot and neither figures to be wildly bet off of their southern form.
Turf allowance routers square off in Race 5. Gulfstream raiders again have owned the young meet, winning 3 of 4 such events. These historically also are very good spots for seasonal return runners from last year, such as we saw with Heart to Heart’s sharp win here Wednesday. Horses like Riposte, Industrial Policy, Bold Kitten and Merilore come north from Florida. Layoff horses that interest most are Honey Lake, Praia and Yuzuru. This appears a very legitimate and deep race where you want to spread if playing the early pick four finale. Trainer Bill Mott’s 9 Spring Meet allowance turf route wins since 2007 are second-most to Shug McGaughey (11) and he could get to double-digit wins in this situation with Riposte.
Race 6 is another 3-year-old MSW, but this one for routers on the main track. It’s not a big upset type of race as 14 of the last 15 such races have been won by fillies 5-1 or less. Gulfstream shippers hold a resounding 21-6 edge over any other circuit in these 38 past similar situations. First-time starters own just 1 win. Not a single one of the 38 winners were making their first starts of the year, a key point here as Ma Billet Doux, Ameliatheaviator, Paradise Alley and Colonel Joan all try to really buck solid history. Spring Blossom and Candy Crush, prepped this year in Florida, could be in a favorable spot.
Entry-level allowance routers match up in Races 7 and 8 on the Polytrack. Turf-prepped runners have a 19-10-7 edge in the 36 prior Spring Meet races in this situation. Again, this is Gulfstream country with a 16-6 margin over any other circuit (FG second-most). As for Race 7, we have seen one “run-back” winner at the meet be successful in this situation, and it happened last year when Phil Oliver brought Grandstand back on 13 days’ rest at short odds. Ken McPeek wheels Maserati back on 7 days’ rest after a claiming score here opening day. McPeek typically has much success with run-back horses during Fall Meets at Keeneland – but has had single run-back Spring wins in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013 during this stand. In the Race 8 division for the fillies, GP turf-prepped runners Wicked Temper and Cool Faith could have a trends edge at what figures to be solid prices. Streethomealabama impressed this eye in her local tries routing at age 2 in the Fall Meet.
Bottom-level maiden claiming sprinters wrap up the Friday card in Race 10. At this distance and class, first-time starters actually have more wins (8) than any circuit in production. Only 3 of 30 winners in past Spring Meets exited turf preps and 6 synthetic preps. Look toward the dirt and the rookies, while only 7 winners turned back from a route prep. The average winner is just 1 length off the lead after the opening half-mile, so speed helps. Looklistenandlearn appears to fit well in this spot given the history, while first-timers Thestarvingartist, Well Versed and Duke of Viseu deserve merit – Well Versed perhaps the most equipped of the rookie trio.
Feature Race Play, courtesy of the Horseplayernow.com BUZZ Report:
All eyes will be on 2012 and 2013 Horse of the Year Wise Dan when he headlines the Race 9 G1 Maker’s 46 Mile. The turf mile has been Wise Dan’s specialty, winning this race a year ago en route to his second straight Breeders’ Cup Mile score. Just as he did last year, Wise Dan will be making his seasonal debut in this spot – a situation in which Kip Deville also did successfully in 2008 when making his title defense.
Tactical speed has been a good thing in this race. Since 2007, the average winner has been 1-1/2 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile and no horse has closed more than 4-1/2 lengths to win. And the way the Keeneland course has played to speed early in the meet (albeit with the turf rail out – likely not to be the case Saturday, consult the conditions), you would expect a forwardly placed horse to have the edge.
Gentleman’s Kitten and Reload appear to have the most early speed, and thus would be the most likely upsetters if Wise Dan were to misfire – or to, more likely, complete the exacta. I don’t see Wise Dan stubbing his toe here, even at age 7 off a layoff.
Exactas for me Wise Dan over the two pacemakers, Gentleman’s Kitten and Reload. That might not be too bad of a return with Za Approval and Lochte perhaps more talented and well-backed runners in the exactas for most players.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.