We are going to do something very different with this Keeneland meet preview than with any of the other ones we’ve done so far. On the down side, this one isn’t publishing until 40 percent of the meet has been run, but on the plus side, I can actually give thoughts on each of the 10 stakes races taking place this weekend.
Later in the piece I will take a general look at Keeneland, as this may help you on any number of undercard races, and will be a useful starting point for us when we come back and do a proper meet preview for Keeneland in the Fall, a meet that culminates with the 2020 Breeders’ Cup.
For those who don’t know, Keeneland is one of the most important – if not the most important – racecourses in America. The best UK analogy is Newmarket in that both are located in the seat of their countries’ breeding industries and have an “HQ” feel. Normally Keeneland runs just the three weeks in spring and three in fall, typically when the best weather is around in Lexington, Kentucky.
Keeneland canceled early amidst COVID-19 and were happily able to pull together this five-day meeting that brings back many of the biggest races traditionally held in Spring.
We’ll get to some stats in a minute but let’s start off with some betting ideas for the graded stakes happening this weekend.
FRIDAY 10 JULY
The festivities begin in earnest with the G3 Beaumont Stakes at 9:24, one of the two races this weekend that Michael McCarthy’s SPEECH is entered in. If she chooses this spot, she’ll be very dangerous from just off the pace with her class edge.
If she goes to the Ashland on Saturday instead, I like the idea that FOUR GRACES will end up being the best the best of speed and go on with it.
The first Grade 1 of the weekend is the Maker’s Mark Mile at 9:57 and WITHOUT PAROLE is the one I’ll be raising my old fashioned cocktail to. Absolutely stymied at a critical stage last time when I advised half the country to be on him at a good number before his price steamed in, I think he only needs a clear passage to reverse form with his stablemate Raging Bull. I don’t think the others can win so I may save with a forecast with those two as well.
SATURDAY 11 JULY
Saturday at Keeneland is a fantastic day with six graded stakes, kicking off with the Grade 2 Apalachian Stakes at 7:45 for three-year-old fillies going one mile on turf. ALMS is going to be very tough to down. She was excellent last year and last time off the bench had plenty of excuses breaking from a tricky post and she ran on well to get within three lengths of impressive winner Sharing who has since gone on to frank the form with a good run in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
In the 8:18, the Grade 1 Madison Stakes, I think AMY'S CHALLENGE has a chance to post an upset despite being well held by Mia Mischief last time out. AMY looks like she could be the best speed here, and the workouts since the last race look really strong, culminating in that fast 5 furlong work most recently at her home base of Canterbury. She’s live at a price against the big guns.
In the G2 Shakertown Stakes at 8:51 I want to bet TEXAS WEDGE back as I think both of his last two were better than they looked. Last time on the Belmont undercard, he made the move that broke the race apart, tackling the speed before going down late to a perfect trip closing winner. Two back I thought he made two moves in the California race and could have done better with a more efficient run. I think a semi-hold-up run from mid-pack could get it done in this spot.
In the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at 9:24 for three-year-old fillies, I’m a big fan of the two at the top of the market and I think they’ll likely have it between them. Preference goes to VENETIAN HARBOR who has the pace advantage, but Speech (if she goes here) is a serious contender and will be running on late. I might spend a good portion of my stake in a straight forecast but I’ll also bet Venetian Harbor to win.
At 9:57 the Grade 1 action continues with the Jenny Wiley Stakes. I marked down JOLIE OLIMPICA as a future Grade 1 winner upon her USA debut, based on the talent she flashed that day. This can be the day for her to make that prognostication look smart, and a decent price to boot, due to the presence of Rushing Fall. Nothing against that legit Grade 1 rival, but Jolie might just be faster, both early and late. I love the look of the 7-furlong work two back and think she can put on a show.
The sextet of stakes concludes at 10:30 with Keeneland’s traditional prep for the Kentucky Derby, the G2 Blue Grass Stakes.
This can be a case where the fastest horses are compromised by a trick pace scenario – there’s a lot of early speed here – and the beneficiary can be a theoretically slower horse who has the class to push past tired horses late. That horse might be RUSHIE, and it certainly adds to his appeal that his form is strong – that 4 length loss to Honor A.P., my second choice for the Derby, stands out. Swiss Skydiver is one bad mamma jamma, and props to her connections for trying the boys and living the Derby dream. A win and the great story that will follow would be no surprise, but I prefer to bet money on Rushie.
SUNDAY 12 JULY
Three-year-old turfers take center stage in Sunday’s first stake, which is the traditional Opening Day of Spring feature, the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes.
There are reasons for BAMA BREEZE to turn the tables on Field Pass. The latter was more or less gifted the race last out, being left alone on the front end last time and there are a lot of horses faster early this time around according to the pace figures. I also think Bama is more progressive and unexposed than his chief rival in this spot.
In the final race of the meet, the 12-furlong Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes, I’m going to take a shot against the favorite with a horse who has beat him before, ARKLOW. He’s not the quickest sort and he has been known to find trouble, but his last few trips have just been too bad to be believed, combinations of chasing slow paces and other issues as well. I wonder if the market might be getting tired of his act, and perhaps will also overreact to his poor draw. He’s interesting if any price to take a shot against Zulu Alpha. Nothing wrong with that one or his form, but he’s going to be very far back and will be a short price – he’s the most likely winner but I think Arklow is going to be the bet.
Except where noted, the stats in this piece were compiled with the help of self-professed “numbers geek,” and regular contributor to inthemoneypodcast.com, John Camardo. They were compiled from April of 2018 through October 2019.
Where possible, two stats we like to track are ROI (return on investment, looking at what happen if you wagered a dollar via the tote on every mount), and IV (Impact Value, how often connections win compared to have often they “should” win, as implied by the odds. When evaluating ROI, keep in mind that any number over £0.85 should be considered a positive result, in the sense that £0.15 is taken out of every wagering dollar via the tote pools. If you’re “beating the takeout,” you are doing very well. With Impact Values, a number of 1.0 means something happens exactly as much as it should, with negative numbers indicating they don’t happen as often as they should and positive values indicating just the opposite.
In dirt sprints, the success of Wesley Ward and George “Rusty” Arnold must be called out. Looking at our now hopefully familiar advanced metrics, Ward wins at 26 percent with an impact value of 1.34 IV, and a 1 GBP investment on each runner has returned exactly 1 GBP in our sample.
Arnold’s win percentage is lower (16 percent) but his IV is 1.35 and his ROI is a whopping £1.76.
Michael Tomlinson is another trainer who comes out well in a small sample (21percent, 2.4 IV, £2.47 ROI)
In dirt routes, three conditioners stand out above the pack:
Ian Wilkes (21percent/1.56 IV/ £1.36)
Brendan Walsh (22percent 1.55 IV/ £1.28)
Brad Cox (31percent/1.15 IV/£1.19)
In turf routes (1 mile or over, note not enough Turf Sprint data to draw meaningful conclusions) the two that stand out here are Brad Cox once again (20percent/1.24 IV/ £1.32) and Mike Maker (15percent/1.04 IV/£1.06).
We’ll start out with dirt sprints where four riders stood out above the competition:
Joel Rosario (38 percent, 1.77 IV, £1.59)
Javier Castellano (39 percent, 1.58 IV, £1.24)
Julien Leparoux (15 percent, 1.14 IV, £1.08)
Tyler Gaffalione (20 percent, 1.23 IV, £0.97)
My top five in dirt routes include three of the same and add in some new blood as well:
Gabe Saez (16 percent, 1.33 IV, £1.41)
John Velazquez (32 percent, 1.49 IV, £1.29)
Javier Castellano (31 percent, 1.28 IV, £1.18)
Julien Leparoux (16 percent, 1.09 IV, £0.97
Joel Rosario (24 percent, 1.27 IV, £0.85)
In turf routes, we get a mix two familiar names from our previous lists and two newcomers to the lists:
Florent Geroux (13 percent, 1.14 IV, £1.22)
Javier Castellano (28 percent, 1.3 IV, £1.17)
Tyler Gaffalione (13 percent, 1.05 IV, £1.11)
Brian Hernandez, Jr. 13 percent, 1.67 IV, £0.99)
(Stats in this section come from our friends at STATS Race Lens and were filtered by STATS power user Matt Vagvolgyi).
Post Positions: Turf Sprints
Looking at post positions, while the data sample is small, it does seem notable that the rail can be very tricky in turf sprints Meanwhile the 2-3 gates come out well in the analysis, suggesting that saving ground is important but perhaps there is something about having the hand forced from inside that makes for tough trips. I am tempted to avoid rail runners in turf sprints unless they can make a clear lead.
In another somewhat counter intuitive stat, posts 10 and out actually do quite well in aggregate. Not sure what this means but I will try to avoid the knee jerk assumption that these gates and the ground loss that often goes with them are necessarily a bad thing.
In Turf Routes, we see a similar dynamic play out with the inside gates, with the 1 being a slight disadvantage but the 2-3 seeming advantageous.
Here, as expected with the two turn configuration, posts 10 and out do not do well and should be downgraded accordingly.
The conclusion, more or less, is that in turf routes you want to be drawn 2-9 ideally.
In Dirt Sprints, the inside gates don’t do all that poorly on the numbers, but it is certainly notable that continuing what we saw in turf sprints, the outside gates do well – really well in the last year. This could be significant given the larger trend in USA racing of having rails that are not advantaged. I’m going to upgrade outside speed on the dirt in sprints.
In Dirt Routes we see a much better performance from the inside gates. There is a certain logic here because even if it’s not a good rail, in a route jocks have more of an opportunity to get away from there.
The Power of Closing Sectionals
Horses on the Keeneland turf at virtually all distances have an advantage when they have the best late pace figures – this is logical certainly, but a look through the numbers really makes late pace look important at Keeneland. Going hand in hand with this notion, early speed in turf routes at Keeneland does not appear to be nearly as beneficial as at other tracks (Belmont turf routes come to mind). This is particularly true when there is cut in the ground (ie the turf is listed as good).
Here is an odd one: in sloppy track dirt sprints at Keeneland, the horses with the best projected late pace have a positive ROI. Typically I think of these races favoring speed so this is one I’ll look out for.