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Expert Picks

Jeremy Plonk

Jeremy Plonk is the owner of Horse Player NOW, the racing industry's leading fan education and player development website and creator of the Night School program. He has been a Keeneland handicapping consultant since 2008 and was lead statistician/researcher for more than 50 Triple Crown telecasts on NBC, ABC and ESPN for 18 years.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What to Watch for Today: The Grade 2 Doubledogdare Stakes headlines a 10-race card that includes the $200,000-guaranteed late pick four, presented by TVG.

 

Updated analysis: Follow @BetKeeneland on Twitter to get my live reports before each race of the meet, including how horses look pre-race, overlays/underlays, track tendencies and more.

 

Today’s Keeneland NOW live podcast: Join Caton Bredar and me from noon-12:30 pm ET as we preview the entire day’s action in a 30-minute daily preview at Keeneland.com (http://www.keeneland.com/racing/racing-live-coverage). Miss the live premiere? Get the archive immediate thereafter with a link from @BetKeeneland on Twitter or at the live racing page at Keeneland.com.

 

Weather: A lovely Spring Friday is in the forecast with temps shading 60 degrees and no rain in the outlook. Enjoy with a jacket!

 

My Selections: You can get my top 3 picks in each race on the track simulcast feed before each race as well on the Keeneland.com handicappers’ consensus page (https://www.keeneland.com/racing/wagering/handicappers-consensus). Also look for final, up to the minute adjustments by following @BetKeeneland as I live Tweet throughout the card.

                                              

Keeneland Handicapping 101: 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!

1st Race

A 7-furlong maiden claiming event opens the TGIF program. You prefer something close up as 10 of the first 11 winners at the 7F trip this meet were within 3 lengths after a half-mile (still 3 furlongs to run) and 9 of those were within 2 lengths. With the running lines in this race, good luck determining pace – watch the warm-ups for an aggressive rider after the post parade. We’ve only had 7 MCL dirt Spring Meet races in recent years at 7F and 3 of those resulted in 10-1 or more upsets, including the first 2 held this meet so far at 16-1 and 29-1.  Fair Grounds turf-to-dirt movers have been effective this meet, so beware Agent Provaceteur as a price. Trainer Eddie Kenneally’s prime real estate at Kee is maiden claimers (12 of his 24 dirt wins in this category, including 9 in MCL sprints). He’ll send out Hua Mulan. Trainer Phil Sims and jockey Chris Landeros already have teamed for a winner this meet via Oaklawn and look for 2 with Mine Mine Mine.

2nd Race

The early pick 4 begins with a non-winners of 2 claimer at 6 furlongs. Whereas Fair Grounds horses have ruled this class historically and this meet, no such runners appear in this event – though Faction Cat did winter at FG and race last at Oaklawn. Last Spring we did see 2 of these N2L claimers won by run-back horses (those making a 2nd start at the meet). Beer Pressure attempts that move. Almost half of the 29 Spring Meet N2L claimers have been won by horses making surface changes from turf or synthetic, so don’t dwell on the last footings.

3rd Race

Maiden special weight 3-year-olds sprint 7 furlongs with a short field of 7. Surely You Jest is by hot Kee dirt sire Into Mischief and exits that all-important Fair Grounds meet. There have been 6 horses win and pay $20+ in this condition in past Spring Meets compared to 4 winning favorites from 16 events. Rookies have just 2 of the 16 wins, so give the edge to experience. Only 2 exited 2-turn preps on the turn-back in trip. All signs point to Surely You Jest and Fort Peck on the trends and their past performance lines.

 

4th Race

Mid-level $32,000 claimers sprint 6 furlongs, and this too has been a historically great spot for the Fair Grounds set. Plus to Belgian, Johnny Obvious and Tarpys Zapper on that note. Belgian is a son of Candy Ride, tied with Tapit & Harlan’s Holiday for the most wins by his offspring on the new Kee dirt.

5th Race

Just like the first, we have maiden claiming sprinters here, but at 6 ½ furlongs to close the early pick five. The aforementioned Harlan’s Holiday is represented by Harlan’s Vador. Expect formidable FG challenges from Oater, Catuga County, Just Old School and Warrior Inside. First timers have won just 4 of the 29 MCL sprints in Spring Meets on dirt, so give experience the edge. Only 1 such winner was making a first start of the year as Harlan’s Vador attempts.

6th Race

Races 6 and 10 – We hit the turf at 1-1/16 miles in maiden special weight company twice in the late pick five. First-time starters have won just 4 of 51 Spring Meet 3YO turf MSWs, so give the big edge to experience. This is pure Gulfstream territory with 27 of 51 winners last prepping at GP, including 2 of the first 2 this meet. That’s the path in Race 6 with Plans to Prosper and Victory Garden, but Race 10 is curiously devoid of any GP influence. Both Plants to Prosper and Beau Belle are by sires whose offspring have led the way the GP lawn the past decade, Kitten’s Joy and Giant’s Causeway. In Race 10, beware the Christophe Clement runners who wintered at Payson Park like City Day, often on point at Keeneland. Trainer Brad Cox won a similar heat here in the 2017 Spring Meet with Arklow via FG and returns with Maybe Wicked.

7th Race

We get a 1-1/16 miles first-level (N1X) allowance on dirt with a field of 7. Trainer Kenny McPeek has been the most successful trainer at Keeneland the past decade in terms of recording victories with horses running back second time at the meet. He’ll try again with Auntie’s the One, runner-up here opening day. He’s won 31 races that way since 2007 locally, a remarkable number, but only 6 of those came in Spring Meets, and none in Spring since the return to dirt. Auntie’s The One ran third in a run-back situation here last Spring on turf. Fair Grounds performers have been on point in the dirt allowance races, so Moonlit Garden and Operatic deserve extra consideration.

8th Race

With 3 of the entrants in this turf marathon N2X allowance at 1-1/2 miles sired by Harlan’s Holiday, it’s notable he’s had 3 wins in recent years on this turf and distance – including 2014 and 2015 Sycamore Stakes winner Holiday Star. This time it’s Harlan Strong, Patrick’s Day and Honovi flying the flag for Harlan’s Holiday. Sire Kitten’s Joy has widely underformed in these turf marathons historically, having just 5 victories from 91 such races since Fall 2006. Considering how prevalent those horses are, and the fact that the wins were all confined to a short period in 2015-’16, there have been way too many dry periods to totally trust these offspring over 12F here. I’ll second-opinion the likes of Decisive Triumph and Deeply Undervalued for that reason. The latter is trained by white-hot Chad Brown, who won a 1-1/2 miles turf marathon on Wednesday’s card, his 5th such win at a Spring Meet since just 2015.

9th Race

Last year’s Grade 3 Doubledogdare Stakes winner made news last week when Unbridled Mo upset Unique Bella in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn. So the defending champ obviously isn’t back, which helped open up a huge field of 13. Trainer Larry Jones’ Keeneland winners all have been exceptionally well-backed (12 of 15 winners favored), and nearly all were right up on the lead or battling for it early. Jena’s Agenda certainly fits that pace profile as pure speed; let’s see what the public does with her on the class rise. Valadorna returns to Keeneland for the first time since her dazzling 2016 Fall Meet maiden breaker. Despite then being a 2YO filly, she ran the 5th-fastest time of the meet of 29 races at this same 1-1/16 miles distance. It still ranks the 2nd-fastest 1-1/16 miles time by a 2YO on the Kee dirt. Her sire Curlin already has seen his son Good Magic win the Grade 1 Blue Grass at this meet. But trainer Mark Casse started a woeful 1-for-30 at this meet coming into this week. When will that icy streak end?

10th Race

Races 6 and 10 – We hit the turf at 1-1/16 miles in maiden special weight company twice in the late pick five. First-time starters have won just 4 of 51 Spring Meet 3YO turf MSWs, so give the big edge to experience. This is pure Gulfstream territory with 27 of 51 winners last prepping at GP, including 2 of the first 2 this meet. That’s the path in Race 6 with Plans to Prosper and Victory Garden, but Race 10 is curiously devoid of any GP influence. Both Plants to Prosper and Beau Belle are by sires whose offspring have led the way the GP lawn the past decade, Kitten’s Joy and Giant’s Causeway. In Race 10, beware the Christophe Clement runners who wintered at Payson Park like City Day, often on point at Keeneland. Trainer Brad Cox won a similar heat here in the 2017 Spring Meet with Arklow via FG and returns with Maybe Wicked.

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