Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for Dec. 31

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December 31st, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, Dec. 31 at Oaklawn Park, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita, along with horses to play in rich carryovers at Aqueduct and Santa Anita.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Exacta Insurance: Receive refunds on exacta bets (up to $10) if your two selected horses finish in the first three home (but not in the winning order) at Fair Grounds. Offer applies to straight exacta bets only.

Picks and Plays

Oaklawn Park: Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (six furlongs, 4:19 p.m. ET)

#9 Winterwood (4-1) has shown promise against quality competition on the Kentucky circuit. After rallying from last place to finish third by 1 1/4 lengths in his debut dashing six furlongs at Churchill Downs, Winterwood employed pace-tracking to finish third in a seven-furlong sprint over the same track.

The latter effort saw Winterwood finish just two lengths behind Surfer Dude, who came back to run third in the Gun Runner S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Winterwood may find the competition a bit easier at Oaklawn, where he’ll race on Lasix for the first time.

Let’s bet Winterwood to win before keying him over first-time starters #2 Favorite Outlaw (3-1) and #8 Insolito (4-1) in the exacta.

  • $20 to win on #9 Winterwood
  • $5 Exacta: 9 with 2,8 ($10)
  • Total: $30

Fair Grounds: Race 7: $17,500 Allowance Optional Claiming (six furlongs, 5:05 p.m. ET)

#5 Curvette (4-5) showed plenty of promise in her first two starts at Santa Anita during the spring. After smashing a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight by 5 1/2 lengths, Curvette ran second in a seven-furlong allowance, rallying to finish only 1 1/4 lengths behind a next-out winner.

Curvette hasn’t run since, but she’s trained nicely for her return, most notably breezing a bullet five furlongs from the Fair Grounds starting gate in :59 2/5. Hot jockey Brian Hernandez is named to ride, and Curvette’s back-to-back 93 Brisnet Speed ratings are the highest in Friday’s field by a wide margin, so a peak effort should see Curvette visit the winner’s circle.

#2 Bizzy Echo (6-1), who has shown excellent tactical speed sprinting at Churchill Downs, can complete the exacta. We’ll make it a cold $10 variety in order to capitalize on the Exacta Insurance promotion.

  • $10 Exacta: 5 with 2

Santa Anita: Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (one mile, 6:30 p.m. ET)

#6 Flying Drummer (8-5) has yet to win from three starts, but he’s kept good company along the way. Second by a head sprinting six furlongs on debut at Del Mar, Flying Drummer subsequently finished second in a one-mile maiden heat (beaten only by the Grade 1-placed Oviatt Class) and fifth in the 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah S. (G1) behind probable champion juvenile Corniche.

All three of these efforts produced 84 Brisnet Speed ratings, the highest figures in Friday’s small field. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez retains the mount for hot trainer Bob Baffert (a 30% winner in maiden special weights), and Flying Drummer is facing easier competition this time around, setting the stage for a breakthrough victory.

#5 Moment of Peace (5-2), fourth in a seemingly deep Del Mar maiden sprint on Nov. 28, can round out the exacta.

  • $20 to win on #6 Flying Drummer
  • $10 Exacta: 6 with 5
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Aqueduct, Race 3: $195,763 Pick 6 mandatory payout (1:44 p.m. ET)

Aqueduct’s Pick 6 went unsolved for a second straight racing day on Thursday, which means the $1 wager will feature an enticing $195,763 mandatory-payout carryover on New Year’s Eve.

Looking for a horse to single? We’ve identified a couple of possibilities. In Race 6, a $62,500 allowance optional claimer, #1 Mexican Wonder Boy (6-1) offer appeal at an enticing price. Victorious over this class level and one-mile distance at Gulfstream last winter, Mexican Wonder Boy recently nabbed a $32,000 claimer racing one mile at Aqueduct. The Linda Rice trainee has an abundance of tactical speed, so if he shakes loose up front in Friday’s largely paceless field, Mexican Wonder Boy can lead all the way to spring a surprise.

Race 8, a one-mile maiden special weight for New York-bred juveniles, also features a possible standout in the form of #10 Curlin’s Wisdom (5-2). The son of Curlin earned a flashy 85 Brisnet Speed rating when fourth in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Belmont, then showed pacesetting speed when finishing third in a one-mile turf heat at Aqueduct. Curlin’s Wisdom is bred to shine on dirt, so tackling the main track at Aqueduct can send Curlin’s Wisdom to the winner’s circle for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Santa Anita, Race 1: $28,302 Super High 5 carryover (3:30 p.m. ET)

The racing week at Santa Anita kicks off on a high note in Friday’s opening race. The event in question is a seven-furlong maiden special weight for fillies and mares, and there’s a $28,302 carryover in the $1 Super High 5.

Seven horses have been entered, including #7 Angel of Freedom (5-2) and #2 Ever Smart (7-2), logical contenders who have placed multiple times against maiden special weight company. But the first-time starter #3 Distractedprincess (2-1) might be the one to key on top.

Trained by Bob Baffert (who wins at a 37% rate with horses debuting in maiden special weights), Distractedprincess has put together a solid work tab highlighted by a bullet five furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in 1:00 flat. John Velazquez (a 42% winner when teaming up with Baffert) is named to ride, stamping Distractedprincess as a logical choice.

  • $1 Super High 5: 3 with 7 with 2,4 with ALL with ALL ($24)

Good luck!