The week starts off with an eight race Wednesday afternoon matinee. There is no All-Turf Pick-3 wager today as only one of the eight races is carded for the grass. The runner-up in this year’s Grade 1 Ashland, Punchbowl, makes her first start since that effort in the 6th race today. First post this afternoon is 1:00 (ET).
I’ll be covering this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|1||9||7,9||8||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||8||5,8||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|3||3||3,7||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|4||3||3||4,5||DBL, PK3, PK5,|
|5||6||6||4,11||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The last five day racing week at Keeneland begins with a $30K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares, going seven furlongs. This is a tough way to start the week, as the current form for many of these ladies is not the best. Stage Bell (#9) feels like the one to beat here. She’s dropping out of maiden special weight company and into a lower level maiden claiming race. She ran with a tag once in her six race career, finishing third at Churchill that day with a livelier group of $50K maiden claimers. Five winners at seven furlong races at this meet were last seen racing on the turf and three of them were cutting back from a two turn route. While this has not been a great angle for Helen Pitts, this filly has been more consistent than most of her rivals. She might not have the highest ceiling in this race, but I think she has the highest floor by a decent margin. Jubilant Joanie (#7) was claimed for $16K at Churchill by Tom Amoss in her last start, which was her first start off a layoff and her first start on the main track. Amoss has strong numbers first off the claim and while he moves up her in class, she finds a field that is below average for this condition. She was asked to go 21:2 in the first quarter when making the lead that day. I don’t think she’ll be under nearly as much pressure on the stretch out, which could prove to be a difference maker for her. Alter the Stars (#8) moves up in class after a game effort with $10K maiden claimers in her second career start at Colonial Downs back in August. She showed little in her debut at this level at Ellis back in July. While this is a deeper group than what she faced in Virginia, I don’t think it’s as steep of a rise in class as it appears to be. She’ll be a backup for me in this spot.
Three year olds an up dash six furlongs in a $20K starter allowance that will begin the Early Pick-4. There’s some solid horses in this race that love to win. For me, I think this one comes down to The Distractor (#5) and Tee Burns (#8). I’ll give the narrow edge to Tee Burns, making his first start off the claim for Chris Hartman. His numbers first off the claim have been excellent, winning 27% of those races since 2022 and 32% of those races in the last year. He won with seven runners first off the claim at the 22-23 Oaklawn Park meet, helping to catapult what’s been a monstrous year for this barn. This Klimt gelding has won three straight races, including a win with open $40K claimers at Churchill in his last start. He cleared the N1X condition at Hawthorne two back, so I like that Hartman was able to find a protected spot for him. The Distractor ships in from Gulfstream for Saffie Joseph after finishing 4th at a similar level when making his first start of the year last month. He likely needed that race, and I’m sure hopes are high for this runner that won six of ten starts in 2022 and only had one off the board finish. Zayas rode him like he was the best horse in the race, taking him four wide all the way around the turn. He was floated out into the five or 6 path, after going all in early. He battled hard and gutted out a 4th place finish, despite conceding a lot of ground to the winner. Every race up to this point in his career has been in Florida, so he’ll have to prove that he can take his show on the road. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bounce back effort after that tough trip. The horse that I’ll be trying to beat is Slam Dunk Sermon (#6), in spite of his 14-35 career numbers. He’s been on the sidelines since June, and he’s always been a horse that improves with consistent spacing in between his races. Thomas Vance has struggled to win with horses off this kind of layoff in the past. I expect that he’ll be much better in his next start, but I’m going to play against him today.
Fillies and mares will go 1 mile and 1/16 in this $40K N2L claiming race. I’ll try Steel Racer (#3) on top in this spot in hopes that she won’t find herself in last place in the early going. It wasn’t a very good beginning for her, as she was bumped from her outside and then the same runner that bumped beat her to her spot going into the first turn. She found herself stacked up behind runners, while also three wide on the first turn. She never recovered in a race where she was the longest shot on the board. The shorter prices in that race had more racing foundation against better fields. She was very effective two back when she found herself on the pace in a $50K maiden claiming race at Ellis and this is a significant drop in class for her. The early lead is there for the taking and I think the hope is that she gets brave out front with Luis Saez taking over. Windy Bay (#7) is the morning line favorite and the one to beat in here. She’s coming back to the main track after a respectable 5th place finish on the turf at Kentucky Downs last month. Prior to that, she finished third in three straight races, while being well-spotted for Thomas Van Berg. She drops back in for a tag for the first time in four races for a barn that excels with horses moving from turf to dirt.
It’s an interesting move to have the racing office card an $80K N2L claiming race for fillies and mares at the same distance as the $40K N2L claimer in the prior race. However, this race drew 8 and the previous race drew 9. Spicy Italian (#3)comes back to the main track after finishing an even 6th in her first try against winners on the turf at Churchill last month. I liked both of her efforts at Hawthorne where she broke her maiden two back and just missed doing so in the start before that. She has inside position on Sandra D (#4), who is the main threat to the early lead. I think Santana holds the cards in this race and can make things tough on the horses that were competing against each other at Churchill in a similar spot last month. Thestral (#5) was very good in her first start off the Tom Amoss claim in that same race at Churchill that Sandra D is coming out of. She ran very well here last fall, narrowly missing with $30K maiden claimers. She just missed that day and it took awhile for her to graduate. She accomplished that task two starts ago in a $40K maiden claimer at Saratoga. She lost a heartbreaker last month when Ain’t Broke got her nose down on the wire. That effort was a career top, so there is a bit of a concern on whether or not she can run back to that kind of effort a few weeks later. Sandra D has been working aggressively after her third place finish last month. If David Cohen can outsprint the top pick to the lead, she might be able to control things up front once again. Front end speed has been kinder at this meet than it was at the recently concluded Churchill meet.
There’s no shortage of promising runners in this seven furlong maiden special weight contest. I don’t typically love playing first time starters at this distance, but there are definitely some well meant runners here. Justifreak (#6) is the 6th runner to run from the dam The Schvagen. Four of the first first five runners were winners at first asking, and the dam was a winner on debut as well. He’s sired by the undefeated Triple Crown winner, Justify, who has sired 15 of 60 (25%) debut winners in dirt sprints. He drilled a strong 46:4 work on 9/30 and a strong 1:00$ five furlong drill last week. John Velasquez takes the mount for Eddie Kenneally, who has won with 12% of his debut runners over the last two years. There’s a lot to like, and if he goes into the gate at or around his 10-1 morning, that would be even better. Popweiser (#4) is another first time starter, and he’s a half to the Grade 1 winner, Search Results. That one was a winner on debut, as was the dam, Co Cola. Horses sired by Nyquist have won 19% of the time when debuting in dirt sprints over the last several years. Nyquist has also sired 17% winners on the dirt at Keeneland, which was the site of his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile triumph in 2015. Wayne Catalano’s horses have struggled at this meet, but the works are solid and there is a win-early pedigree present for sure. The morning line favorite is Air of Defiance (#11), coming in for his second career start for Cox. He debuted behind a runaway winner in the mud at Saratoga last out. However, the winner of that race, Fierceness, struggled mightily in the Grade 1 Champagne when he made his next start. The speed figure is solid and the connections win a lot of races. However, there’s not going to be much value on this runner, if at all.
The featured race of the afternoon is an optional $80K claiming/N2X allowance race for fillies and mares, going 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track. The runner up in the Grade 1 Ashland, Punchbowl (#4) makes her first start since that race here for Brad Cox. She looked like a good thing when she debuted at Oaklawn in February, coming from off the pace to win after having some trouble at the break. She stretched out to this distance in her second start and she led every step of the way, posting an impressive 89 Beyer Speed Figure in doing so. She was the 6-5 favorite back in April in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes, where she couldn’t quite get by Defining Purpose. She went to the sidelines after that race and appears to be ready to re-launch her career. She has tactical speed and the main danger appears to be coming from the same barn and the same owners. I’m not sure if the plan is to run both her and Insignia (#1), or if Insignia was entered to make sure the race filled. She ran a huge race to clear the N1X condition at Ellis two starts ago. She came back and possibly bounced a bit when she finished second as the 1-5 favorite at this level on 8-28. With $120K on the line, the West’s could be looking to take down the first and second place money by running both fillies in this small field. I’d have to think if they both run, the connections feel like she is a worthy adversary for her stablemate to face. Skratch Kat (#5) hasn’t been as effective this season as she was as a three year old.She dropped to this level after running a distant third in the four horse Shuvee stakes at the Spa this summer. She ran well at Churchill last month, but in these small fields, she often finds herself pace compromised. I think that’s likely to happen again here as the two main pace factors in this race come from the same barn. I respect her class, but I’ll only use her as a backup if one of the two Cox runners defects from this race.
The lone turf race of the afternoon is a N1X allowance race for fillies and mares, going 1 mile and 1/16. As has been the case with most of the turf races at this meet, this one drew an overflow field with three runners on the AE list and one MTO runner to complement the 12 runners in the body of the field. The morning line favorite is Hola Gata (#5) coming off a solid maiden score at Kentucky Downs for Chad Brown. Brown hasn’t brought many runners to this meet, but he’s had success with his few starters. She’s been solid in her last two starts, nearly missing at Monmouth two back. She feels like the one to beat, but she’s facing winners for the first time and figures to be a short price in a race where I don’t think there is a huge gap between the shorter prices and some of the longer ones. She’s an A line play for me, but I’m looking for value on top. I’ll make Tituba (#3) the top pick for Mike Maker. She’s cutting back in distance after struggling in a race at this level when going 12 furlongs at Churchill a few weeks ago. Her second place finish at Kentucky Downs two starts back was solid and she ran, what was then, a career top speed figure when going two turns on the turf for the first time back in March. I think she could be finishing fast in this race, while getting back to a distance that figures to be more comfortable for her. Our Dotsie (#4) breaks next door, while stretching out after a pair of solid efforts in sprint races. She broke her maiden at Ellis two starts ago when going 5 and ½ furlongs. She stretched out to seven furlongs at Kentucky Downs last month and finished a wide 6th, less than four lengths behind the winner. She ran well in her first start at two turns back in March at Tampa, so I could see her moving forward in this spot today. Be My Sunshine (#13) is an also-eligible runner in this race, but she’s worth using if she does draw into the body of the field. She’s also cutting back in distance after going the full 1 mile and 5/16 circuit at Kentucky Downs last month, finishing third at this level. She ran well on this course in the spring, finishing second, beaten only a length. She’ll have to navigate a difficult post, but I do see her as a horse that is worth covering if she is a participant. Another longshot player that is worth keeping in mind if she can draw into the body of the field is Condone (#15). She made a nice bid in her turf debut at Kentucky Downs last month. She was going a mile while making her first start since finishing 5th at this level on the dirt here in April. I don’t mind playing back a horse that clearly got tired in the final furlong on that course. They’re going uphill toward the wire and a horse coming off a five month layoff, while also trying turf for the first time, likely needed that race from a fitness perspective. I think that’s part of the reason that we see so many horses come back with strong efforts after racing at Kentucky Downs. I think there is some definite upside here. While her post will be less than ideal, she’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if her odds float over her 15-1 morning line figure.
$150K maiden claiming two year olds will end the afternoon today. Runnin Munnin (#2) debuted at this level at Churchill last month and finished a respectable 4th. He cuts back from 6 and ½ furlongs to 6 furlongs for his second time out. Stall doesn’t have great numbers with two year olds or second time starters, but his runners at this meet have been running credible races. Finish the Mission (#4) is the first time starter that I’m most interested in here. Noble Mission did his best work on the turf, but he does get 8% winners with debut runners in maiden claiming races on dirt. Tom Amoss does a good job spotting his horses in general. Atomic (#1) would likely be the top pick for me if he weren’t stuck on the rail with a full field for his debut. His dam has produced some useful runners that have won some small stakes. Horses sired by Mitole are winning at a 14% clip in dirt sprints in their first starts. This barn typically does better with debuting maiden claimers. At 15-1 or better, I’m on board for a shot with him. Catalina Crush (#6) is the morning line favorite and a horse that I’ll be using as a backup in this spot. I didn’t love his last race in New York in a state bred maiden allowance race. It’s interesting that Casse brings him here for this race, as opposed to keeping him in New York over the winter to face state bred foes at Aqueduct. My guess is that they’re trying to max out value on him in a maiden auction race like this. If he runs back to his debut race at Saratoga, that probably puts him in the Winner’s Circle. However, at short odds, I think you have to try to beat him.
How to Read the Picks-Grid:
This grid has become my favorite tool for helping to handicap a race card in advance. Keep in mind that these designations for me are flexible and may change depending on how the value in the betting market shifts leading up to post time.
The “Top Pick” Column is fairly self-explanatory, meaning that it’s the horse that I think will win the race.
The “A” Column is reserved for the horses that I feel have the best chances of winning. The more horses that are in this column per race, the more wide open I think the race might be. For multi-race wagers, these horses will be on the bulk of my tickets. If I’m betting on the vertical wagers (exactas, trifectas, superfectas), these horses would likely be candidates to be keyed on top.
The “B” Column are horses that I think have a chance of winning, but I don’t like them as much as the runners on the A line. If I put a morning line favorite in this column, I’m trying to find ways to beat them. For me, favorites on the B line typically will either be used underneath in the vertical exotics, or perhaps not at all. They’ll typically be used on some back up tickets in the multi-race wagers, especially in races where the other options aren’t as strong. I might also relegate a horse to the B line if I don’t think there’s good value on that horse with their morning line odds or how I think the race will be bet. For example, If I think a horse should be closer to 5-1, and their morning line odds are 3-1, he might start on the B line for me. If the betting public moves the line closer to the odds that I feel are fair, and I like the horse’s chances, I could move them up when I’m playing the race.
The “C” Column is reserved as a deep backup for me. Again, if a favorite is on the C line, that’s me telling you that I don’t like them that much in this race. I definitely won’t be using them on top in any vertical wager, as I’ll be trying to beat them with most of my tickets. Sometimes this spot will be reserved for a crazy longshot that checks one of the boxes I might be looking for when playing horses at long odds.