Keeneland Racing Preview – 4/14/23 – By Eric Solomon

I’ve altered the format for this blog post starting with today’s strong 10 race program. I’ve tried to make this format applicable to handicappers of all levels, gearing some thoughts toward beginners, weekend handicappers, and more seasoned players. I’ve also included the usual Late Pick-5 analysis below. The featured race is the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile, which will be the 2023 debut of the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, Modern Games. First post for the Friday program 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 8 8 2 DBL, PK3, PK5
2 9 2,9 5 DBL, PK3, PK4
3 9 2,4,9 1 DBL, PK3
4 1 1,9 6 DBL, PK3
5 2 1,2,10 13,14 5 DBL, PK3, PK6

All-Turf PK3

6 1 1 5 DBL, PK3, PK5
7 12 12 3,6,7 DBL, PK3, PK4
8 2 2,3 5 9 DBL, PK3
9 7 7 5 DBL
10 3 1,3,7 10


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. 


Today’s Race in Focus, Race 3:

On today’s card, there’s a morning line favorite that I’m going to be completely against in Race 3. Margoinabubblebath (#3) is not seen anywhere on my picks grid, so she’s one that I won’t be playing. She ran a huge race to break her maiden last out, beating a modest field of $30K maiden claimers at the Fair Grounds. That race was a significant jump forward from a speed figure perspective, and for a horse making her fifth career start that day, a jump like that is a bit unexpected. She was claimed out of that race by Donald Habeeb, who has claimed thirteen horses in the past five years. Not one of them has come back to win in their next start. I see her as a bounce candidate who feels more likely to finish off the board. So, the question becomes how can we capitalize on this?


If you’re a new horseplayer, or someone that is coming to Keeneland for the day, one wager that I’d recommend is a three horse exacta box. Any time I bring a friend to the track that has limited handicapping knowledge, this is always a wager that I’ll suggest. You’ll need any two of those horses to finish first and second to get paid. Payoffs are generally better than win, place, or show wagers, and I think it makes the race a little more exciting for a newcomer. They’re following along, looking for three horses instead of just one. If something happens to one of the horses, you’re not completely eliminated like you would have been if you had played the horse to win. For example, this past weekend a friend of mine was wagering with me, and we played a three horse exacta box. One of the horses we played stumbled out of the gate and lost its rider, but we still cashed when the other two runners on our ticket finished first and second. 


I think this 3rd race is a great spot for a three horse exacta box, because there are three horses at longer odds that I’m interested in. In this case, all three runners are on the A line for me. I like Miss Tappy Tone (#9) as the top pick for Chris Hartman. This filly is shipping to Kentucky after a pair of races at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Her debut in a sprint was solid, closing well to win. She faced a salty field last out when going two turns and never fired. This is a softer group where she’s still protected from being claimed. Golden Dagger (#2) was a firstout winner in her only career race, which came last month at Turfway. She ran on a synthetic surface there, so racing on traditional dirt will be a new experience for her. However, her trainer, William Morey, has won with 26% of starters in 2023. He’s won with 24% of his runners making this surface change over the past five years. Mean Sue (#4) is another Turfway runner that is racing on a different surface today. Unlike Golden Dagger, she has run on dirt before, breaking her maiden at Churchill last fall and running a solid second on this course last October. I was impressed with her ability to recover from an uncomfortable start last time out. I think she’s a better horse now than she was when we last saw her at Keeneland last fall. 


The play: $1 exacta box 2-4-9 ($6.00 Wager)


Late Pick-5 Analysis:


Race 6: 

The Late Pick-5 gets underway with a six horse N1X allowance race for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track. As we see so often in New York, this feels like a Todd Vs. Chad race, where the two favorites stand out to me. I’m expecting a big effort from Chad Brown’s Distinctlypossible (#1). She’s run two strong races on this oval, finishing second as a maiden to Juju’s Map in the 2021 Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades. She made her next start here in the spring, breaking her maiden rather easily. She was a bit flat when Brown brought her to Pimlico for the Black Eyed Susan. She went on another lengthy hiatus and resurfaced on the turf at Gulfstream at the end of February. She didn’t run particularly well that day, so the move is to bring her back to the main track. I think she’ll sit the right trip from her rail draw and will be able to get by Inventing (#5). She’s the Pletcher runner that flattened out late in her first start of 2023, finishing third when going a one turn mile at Gulfstream. Her best race came on this oval last fall, when she came from off the pace. She tends to lose battles though when she’s close to the front end, and I think, with this compact field, that’s where she’ll be positioned. She’s talented enough to win, but if they get into a dogfight in the stretch, I’d prefer Distinctlypossible. 


Race 7, The $250K Fanduel Limestone Stakes:

The first of two races on this Friday card is a stakes race for three year old fillies, sprinting 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf. I like Danse Macabre (#12) quite a bit in this spot. I don’t typically love horses who are cutting back from two turns to a one turn turf sprint, however, she is a proven commodity in turf sprints. She was the winner of the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes last month at Gulfstream .The runner-up, Papillio, came back to win the Appalachian Stakes here last weekend. There’s a lot of speed signed on here and with many of those speed types making their first starts of the year, I’m expecting them to go quick early. That should set the stage for a horse to come from off the pace to get the job done. Alluring Angel (#7) is a bomb that could make some sense here. She was very good in her two sprints as a two year old, winning at this distance in her debut at Saratoga and then narrowly losing to Danse Macabre in the Untapable Stakes at Kentucky Downs. She tried two turns twice at the end of her two year old campaign, and didn’t run terribly. She’ll need to step up to compete at this level, but I think she has the right running style for this race. Flavien Prat riding her certainly won’t hurt her chances. Just a Care (#6) could be another one that fits that mold. She was closing well to finish second in the Melody of Colors Stakes at Gulfstream last month. She feels like one that will definitely appreciate the added 1/16 of a mile that she’ll be getting in this race. Love Reigns (#3) is likely going to be favored in this spot, likely in part due to her monster win on this course last April. She was favored in the betting in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, but she didn’t run her race that day. She might be better than these on her best day, so I’ll include her on some tickets. However, I do think she is vulnerable here today. 

November 4, 2022: The start of the Juvenile Turf Sprint on Breeders’ Cup Championship Friday at Keeneland on November 4, 2022: in Lexington, Kentucky. Lady Hollywood (#1), Love Reigns (#2), and American Apple (#8) all made their last start in this race and will be making their 2023 in the Fanduel Limestone Stakes today. Matt Wooley/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup


Race 8:

I’m going to side with the 2021 Fair Grounds Oaks winner, Travel Column (#2) making her first start of 2023 in this race. She probably wants to go a little longer than this 6 and ½ furlong distance, however, she has a pair of wins in sprints, one in her debut and the other off a layoff last June at Churchill. Paulo Lobo is her third trainer that Larry Best of OXO Equine has employed as her trainer. His horses tend to fire fresh. My Destiny (#3) moves up the class ladder, but she’s a hard knocking mare that knows how to win races. She has found the Winner’s Circle eight times in her 21 career starts, most recently winning by open lengths in a starter allowance race at Gulfstream. She’s won five of her last six, including a stakes race at Delta, and she’s adaptable to whatever pace scenario she’ll encounter. Novel Squall (#5) shipped here from Oaklawn last year and crushed a compact field at this distance. She was unable to replicate that kind of effort in her three starts since. She did face some serious racehorses in those last few starts though. She drilled a bullet on this course in preparation for her return. On deeper tickets, I’ll use the Grade 1 Test winner, Chi Town Lady (#9) as a saver. She’s the morning line favorite and will likely go into the starting gate as the betting favorite. She closed well into some snappy fractions in her last two starts, but I’m not sure she;s going to get the right set up today. I suspect that she’ll be left with too much to do in the stretch.


Race 9, The Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile:

While some may try, I think it’s going to be very hard for anyone in this field to beat Modern Games (#7) in this Grade 1 event. He’ll offer little to no value, but he’s been flawless in his three career starts in North America. He was brilliant when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at two. He went to Canada for the Woodbine Mile where he crushed his rivals. He returned to Ascot where he finished second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes there, but he had plenty left in the tank to cross the Atlantic for a return engagement in the Breeders’ Cup. He didn’t have the best trip, but he was still able to close late to get up as the popular winner. I don’t think this field is nearly as deep, and he was a winner when making his seasonal debut in 2022 in France. The one that I’d use as a backup would be Dr. Zempf (#5) for Chad Brown. While his best work was done at shorter races overseas, he seemed to look very comfortable going two turns at Gulfstream last month. He’ll stretch out to the mile here for a barn that has had tremendous success with European imports on American soil over the last several years. I don’t think he’s in the same class as Modern Games, but the favorite will no doubt have a target on his back, and he runs into trouble, I think the doctor could be the beneficiary.

November 5, 2022: Modern Games #4, ridden by William Buick wins the Fanduel Breeders’ Cup Mile on Breeders’ Cup Championship Saturday at Keeneland on November 5, 2022: in Lexington, Kentucky. Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup /CSM


Race 10: 

The Friday nightcap is a maiden special weight for three year olds going 1 mile and 1/16. I’m not in love with the favorite in this spot, Bourbon Resolve (#8). He’s favored in the morning line because he was second to Mage when he ran like a beast in his debut. However, he’s been on the sidelines since January and he’s being asked to go two turns for the first in a field where several other runners have that experience in their back pockets. The sprint to route angle for Ian Wilkes has only hit 5% of the time with his last 60 starters. On paper, several of the contenders are coming out of similar races at different circuits. I think the value lies with the Fair Grounds shippers, so I’ll be using Pursuit of Power (#3) and St. John’s (#7) on the A line. St. John’s was 2 and ½ lengths better than Pursuit of Power last time out. However, I thought Pursuit of Power ran very well for his debut. He’ll be making his second career start today, so I think there is room for improvement. While Asmussen’s runners have struggled here over the past year plus, I’m willing to take him as the top pick, assuming he hovers around his 8-1 morning line figure. St. John’s couldn’t go with the runaway winner late last out when making his first start at two turns, but he was clearly second best. Brenden Walsh had a pair of winners on Wednesday, so this barn is coming in with quality runners ready to run their best races. Mr McGregor (#1) is an interesting longshot for Bill Mott. He debuted at Saratoga this summer, but didn’t act like a horse that was ready for raceday. He finished up the track and was turned out until returning to the work tab this winter in Florida. He made his seasonal debut at this level going a one turn mile at Gulfstream. He showed some interest early before fading late to be a distant third. I think he will move up at two turns and I think he’ll benefit from hs rail draw. Tshiebwe (#10) is the shorter priced runner that I’ll back up with. He tired late going nine furlongs at Gulfstream last out, finishing third. He’s run into some talented runners on the track, but he’s held his own. I don’t love the way he’s been finishing his races though, which is a bit concerning while breaking from a wide post in this spot. 


The One and Done Ticket: 

My All A’s and B’s Ticket will cost $48, with the 2x4x3x1x4 structure. Modern Games (#7, R9) feels like a free square in the Maker’s Mark Mile, and at short odds, he certainly won’t add much value to this ticket. I do see both of Wesley Ward’s main runners in the 7th and 8th races as vulnerable favorites, so if we can beat them both, that would certainly help the cause.


Multiple Plays:

With deeper pockets, comes different ways to attack a wager like this. My All-A play would be $6 with $1.00 as the base wager. I’d typically try to have that covered multiple times. In addition to the All A/B ticket above, I’d look at playing the following, which adds up to a $100 investment. 


$3.00 Base Wager, All A: 1/12/2-3/7/1-3-7 ($18)


$1.00 Base Wager, BxAxAxAxA: 5/12/2-3/7/1-3-7 ($6)


$1.00 Base Wager, ABxAxBxAxA: 1-5/12/5/7/1-3-7 ($6)


$1.00 Base Wager, ABxAxAxAxB: 1-5/12/2-3/7/10 ($4)


$0.50 Base Wager,: AxBxAxAxA: 1/3-6-7/2-3/7/1-3-7 ($9)


$0.50 Base Wager, ABxAxCxAxA: 1-5/12/9/7/1-3-7 ($3)


$0.50 Base Wager, ABxAxAxCxA: 1-5/12/2-3/7/1-3-7 ($6)


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