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 13, 2013
What to Watch for Today: The biggest day of the Spring Meet is upon us with the Grade 1 $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes topping a five-stakes program that includes a special all-stakes pick four in Races 7-10. Past Keeneland stakes winners like Perfect Officer, Holiday for Kitten and Daisy Devine headline the undercard. And the main event boast a capacity field of 14 Kentucky Derby aspirants that promises to be one of the best betting races in America this season.
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: Mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 50s are forecasted with significant breezes around 20 mph. Watch the flags (flags to the left favor early speed at Keeneland as you face the track). 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 take a look at the card, race-by-race and any trends that could lead us to prosperity. All information is gleaned from the free Polycapping database (http://apps.keeneland.com/awstats/Default.asp).
Today we’re going to focus more heavily on the five major stakes.
The stakes portion of the menu opens in Race 6, the Grade 3 Commonwealth for Polytrack sprinters. This race has been dominated by horses with some early speed as five of the six winners were within 2-1/2 lengths of the lead with three furlongs left to run. Don’t overemphasize synthetic surface experience. The last four winners of this race had a combined one start prior on an all-weather track. Given this field of six has only one Keeneland prior race among the lot, it’s good to keep an open mind. While favorites are 0-for-6 in the Commonwealth in the Poly era, no winner has been more than 6-1 odds, so it’s a pretty formful race. Of the 31 stakes at Keeneland at 7 furlongs on Polytrack, 21 of the winners exited one-turn sprint preps, and looking at the past performances that could be a knock on Big Blue Spirit and Handsome Mike, who appear to be more traditional routers trying to turn back in distance. Bernie the Maestro did route last time, but his form as a 7-furlong horse is proven. From a pace standpoint, Bernie the Maestro could make the front here in a race not boasting a lot of pace. If he does, he could be tough to catch. First-time Poly runners Gantry and Bind both are sons of Pulpit, a sire whose offpring have done very well on this surface, but have been stronger route influences than sprint. This looks like Bernie and Bind to me.
Race 7 is the Grade 3 Shakertown for turf sprinters. Defending champion Perfect Officer and local course stakes winner Havelock certainly have been home on this sand-based turf course. History says you don’t want to be too far back in the Shakertown. The average winner has been a length off the lead after the opening half-mile, and Perfect Officer’s rallying win last year was the deepest “close” in the last six years. Three times in the past six years the Shakertown winner was making his first start of the calendar year, so a fresh turf sprinter is more than capable. Don’t let the extended layoffs for Perfect Officer, Havelock, Regally Ready and Next Question sway you. They look like the top four on paper on class, and history indicates they’ll have enough fitness. Note that Garrett Gomez has been exceptional in Keeneland turf sprints, winning six times since Fall 2006, remarkable given his limited appearances here. He partners with Havelock. Regally Ready never has run on the Keeneland turf, but has excelled on a similar course at Churchill Downs and should translate well here. This race runs through Perfect Officer, Regally Ready and Havelock with Something Extra a consideration in from Gulfstream and luring Leparoux.
As mentioned in the Commonwealth analysis, good dirt form plays very well in Polytrack sprint stakes at Keeneland despite a public perception that it does not. The Race 8 Grade 1 Madison is another example of that. The last three winners of this race all prepped on dirt at Tampa, Oaklawn and Gulfstream. And the last 5 Madison winners had a combined total of only 4 prior synthetic starts and 3 combined turf starts. Only 1 of 6 Madison winners in the Poly era prepped on turf. Five of the six Madison winners in the Polytrack era exited sprint preps, the only “turn-back” from a route came from Shotgun Gulch in 2011, but even that filly had been a defined sprinter prior to the route try. Focus on the fillies and mares here who are sprinters by trade, not routers. Recent form has been important in the Madison as 5 of its 6 winners on Poly were fillies/mares who prepped recently in March of their seasons. Holiday Kitten is a pure sprinter who loves this course and has two sprint stakes wins on the Polytrack, but she’s been away since September. Good recent dirt and synthetic form can be found with Jamaican Smoke and Shumoos, and they may fit the stats profile best among this field. You get Leparoux and Gomez with that apir, which doesn’t hurt either. Dr. Diamonds Prize also fits well, has run well over the track and makes an important second start off of a layoff. She should be a nice price.
Race 9 is the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley for distaffers on the turf. Defending champion Daisy Devine loves the Keeneland turf and is perfect at this distance lifetime. The Wiley trends don’t point to significant patterns and this race appears one of a traditional handicapping exercise. My lean is to the Brazilian-bred Old Tune, who has impressed visually in two domestic wins at Tampa and appears on the brink of stardom for Todd Pletcher. Daisy Devine, Samitar and Hard Not to Like are the exotics horses I’ll be using with her. From a pedigree standpoint, Abaco certainly is bred to like this course by Giant’s Causeway and is less than a length away from bringing a five-race winning streak into the Jenny Wiley. Enjoy, this is a tough one! Either single or spread in the multi-race wagers; don’t feel like two or three-deep is any more comfortable than six-deep.
As for the undercard races, here are some notes. In Race 1, look for early speed to be super-tough given the field size. With 6 or fewer horses going 6 furlongs on the Kee Poly, the average winner has been just .11 lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, that’s far closer-up than the overall 6-furlong average of 1.23 lengths off the pace.
Only Todd Pletcher has broken more maidens in straight 3-year-old races in Spring Meets at Keeneland than Michael Matz, a surprising fact given Matz’s overall profile. Don’t be surprised if Race 3 longshot Jet Force doesn’t outrun his odds for Matz on the stretchout in distance.
Lean to the Gulfstream turf preppers in Spring Meet route allowances on grass like we have in Race 4. That limits a tough field to Treasury Devil and Burn the Mortgage. The GP turfers win almost 50 percent of such races offered, and when you have only two in a race like this, that can be an affordable way of whittling down an otherwise more expensive series of wagers.
Feature Race Play: Race 10 is the main event. Let’s get to work on the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass.
Three straight Blue Grass winners have been horses coming off of turf preps at Gulfstream Park, and if that trend is to continue Saturday, either Rydilluc, Charming Kitten or Tesseron will have to deliver. I think your analysis of the Blue Grass starts with that factor as you try to sift through a 14-horse lineup with diverse resumes. Another key factor about the surface history is that all six Blue Grass winners in the Polytrack era had at least one prior race on a synthetic surface or on turf. No horse with an exclusive dirt resume has won the Blue Grass, something Palace Malice and Footbridge will attempt to do.
Dullahan’s 3-1 victory last year marked the first time the Blue Grass was won by a horse under 8-1 in the Poly era. The average winner during the six-year run has been 15-1 odds. The winners have been evenly spread among three pressing types and three deeper closers. No horse has won the Blue Grass on the front end on Polytrack, though favorite Hansen ran a cracker on the engine last year to be second.
Rydilluc has been visually impressive on the grass, and while he has a tough post position, we saw Emollient win last weekend’s Grade 1 Ashland from that same 13 post and Wicked Style win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity from the 12-hole a few years back. I’ll be keying on Rydilluc along with Uncaptured and the late-running duo of Java’s War and Fear the Kitten.
For a more detailed take on my Toyota Blue Grass Stakes thoughts, check out my Countdown to the Crown column at DRF.com.
Feel free to drop me an E-mail anytime at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.