Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for July 16

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July 16th, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, July 16 at Ellis Park and Saratoga, along with horses of note in a pair of carryovers at Arlington Park.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Saratoga Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races at Saratoga. Offer must be unlocked each day of the meet; see offers page for details.
  • Del Mar Daily $500 Place Jackpot: Cash six or more $5+ place bets on any given card at Del Mar to split a $500 daily jackpot.
  • Rest of the World Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in any race at Randwick (Australia).

Picks and plays

Ellis Park, Race 7: Allowance/optional claiming (one mile, 4:40 p.m. ET)

#7 Irish Unity (9-5) has shown plenty of speed and potential in his first two starts sprinting for trainer Steve Asmussen. The dark bay gelding dominated his debut at Lone Star Park by 4 1/4 lengths, then came back to crush an allowance by 5 3/4 lengths.

The stretch out to one mile is a question mark for Irish Unity, though he is bred top and bottom to thrive running long. Sire Pioneerof the Nile won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and finished second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), while dam Justwhistledixie has foaled a quartet of two-turn graded stakes winners, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) victor New Year’s Day.

Let’s bet Irish Unity heavily to win, then toss in a small exacta, with #4 Savvy (4-1) in the runner-up spot.

$25 to win on #7 Irish Unity
$5 exacta: 7 with 4
Total: $30

Saratoga, Race 4: Maiden special weight (1 3/8 miles on turf, 2:49 p.m. ET)

There is hardly any speed entered in this lengthy turf route for fillies and mares, which opens the door for #7 Angelou (5-2) to shake loose on an uncontested lead.

Angelou hasn’t missed the trifecta in her first three starts, from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. The daughter of Curlin recently returned from an 8 1/2-month layoff to finish second in a 1 1/16-mile event at Belmont Park, where she was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths.

As a half-sister to 1 1/8-mile Pucker Up S. (G3) winner Cafe Americano, there’s plenty of stamina in Angelou’s pedigree. I’m optimistic she’ll handle 1 3/8 miles, especially if she shakes loose on an easy lead.

#5 Flaming Rouge (2-1), runner-up in a 1 1/4-mile maiden special weight at Belmont Park last month, can complete the exacta.

$20 to win on #7 Angelou
$5 exacta: 7 with 5
Total: $25

Saratoga, Race 6: Maiden special weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 3:55 p.m. ET)

Trainer Anthony Dutrow hasn’t had the best luck with first-time starters of late, wit just one winner from 25 starters since the summer of 2017. But did you know 13 of those runners finished in the top three, which is a 52% in-the-money rate?

During the same time frame, Dutrow has compiled a 0-1-3 record from six starts with debut juveniles at Saratoga, a 67% in-the-money rate. All these stats suggest #10 Saratoga Chrome (12-1) can outrun expectations in this maiden sprint for New York-bred two-year-olds.

A daughter of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, Saratoga Chrome is a half-sister to the stakes-winning sprinter/miler Listenlindalisten. Saratoga Chrome has turned in seven timed workouts in preparation for her debut, including a bullet three furlongs from the Belmont starting gate. I believe she can display enough precocity to crack the trifecta — or even win — at a nice price.

Let’s place a small win bet on Saratoga Chrome, then wheel her in trifectas, with the logical favorites in the remaining slots.

$7 to win on #10 Saratoga Chrome
$0.50 trifecta: 10 with 2,4,5,7 with 2,4,5,7 ($6)
$0.50 trifecta: 2,4,5,7 with 10 with 2,4,5,7 ($6)
$0.50 trifecta: 2,4,5,7 with 2,4,5,7 with 10 ($6)
Total: $25

Carryover watch

Arlington Park, Race 2: $6,031 Pick 7 carryover (3:51 p.m. ET)
Arlington Park, Race 3: $2,567 Pick 6 carryover (4:23 p.m. ET)

A 23-1 upset in Arlington Park’s Thursday finale was sufficient to trigger a pair of non-jackpot carryovers for Friday’s card. The 20-cent Pick 7 boasts a $6,031 prize pool, while the 20-cent Pick 6 carries a $2,567 pot.

We’ve gone through the sequences and identified a handful of horses worth betting (or opposing) this afternoon.

Best single: Race 4, #2 Slime Queen (7-5)

A four-year-old daughter of Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie, Slime Queen has cracked the trifecta in eight of her nine runs on turf, including four straight races during the winter and spring. If you draw a line through her sixth-place effort in an off-the-turf event at Arlington last month, Slime Queen’s form looks rock-solid.

Trainer Hugh Robertson wins at a 23% rate in claiming races, and Slime Queen brings competitive Brisnet Speed ratings. With her blend of tactical speed and tractability, she’ll be tough to beat in her return to grass.

Vulnerable favorite: Race 6, #5 Maid of Honor (5-2)

Maid of Honor finished third over this turf course, one-mile distance, and maiden special weight class level May 9, when she was beaten just 1 3/4 lengths. But the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro benefited from tracking a very slow pace, so she isn’t guaranteed to produce a better effort Friday.

Maid of Honor is certainly a logical contender, but she will face a deep field of challengers, including $800,000 yearling acquisition #2 Serene (7-2), the European import #3 Miss Chess (3-1), and the well-bred first-time starter #6 All in a Dream (9-2).

Mid-range longshot: Race 8, #9 First Masamune (9-2)

In recent starts, First Masamune has won sprinting on Polytrack and running long on turf. So doesn’t it stand to reason he should find sprinting on turf right up his alley? The son of First Samurai will give it a shot in this allowance/optional claimer held at 5 1/2 furlongs on the Arlington grass.

First Masamune brings a bevy of competitive Brisnet Speed ratings and is versatile in running style. He has also been something of a win machine, with three wins in his last five starts. Since the form of morning-line favorite #1 Never Have I Ever (9-5) has trended downward over the past couple months, First Masamune looms as a logical alternative.

Good luck!