Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for July 9

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

July 9th, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares $75 worth of picks and plays for Friday, July 9 at Belmont Park, Ellis Park, and Lone Star Park, along with two singles for Arlington Park’s $4,040 Pick 8 carryover.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Exacta Insurance: Receive refunds on straight exacta bets (up to $10) if your two selected horses finish in the first three home (but not in the winning order) in any race with seven or more runners at Lone Star Park.
  • 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

Belmont Park, Race 2: $40,000 claiming (1 1/16 miles, 1:31 p.m. ET)

#2 Supreme Aura (6-5) is the morning-line choice, after he rallied to victory at this class level May 15. But the six-year-old gelding benefited from a hot pace and seems unlikely to enjoy the same favorable setup Friday.

There’s essentially no speed entered in this compact field, which could play to the strengths of #4 Heirloom Kitten (2-1). A 9 1/2-length maiden winner at Belmont last summer, Heirloom Kitten fired a big effort in a $50,000 claimer over this track and distance last month, when he finished second by a neck in his first start since being claimed by trainer Rob Atras.

Atras wins at a 32% rate with horses that run for the second time under his care, so we can expect Heirloom Kitten to produce another strong effort Friday. The son of Kitten’s Joy has enough tactical speed to secure an uncontested lead under jockey Manny Franco, and that advantage — coupled with the drop to the $40,000 level — should be sufficient to land Heirloom Kitten’s in the winner’s circle.

Let’s bet Heirloom Kitten to win and play him on top of a cold exacta, with Supreme Aura in second place.

$20 to win on #4 Heirloom Kitten
$5 exacta: 4 with 2
Total: $25

Ellis Park, Race 4: Maiden special weight (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 3:14 p.m. ET)

Since 2016, no trainer has enjoyed more success with debut juveniles in Ellis Park turf sprints than Mark Casse. He has compiled a 4-0-3 record from 12 starts with such runners.

These stats point toward #2 Fierce Debate (6-1) as a live contender for Casse on Friday. A son of internationally successful stallion More Than Ready (who sires 12% winners from first-time starters), Fierce Debate has shown speed in the morning, with a trio of :47-and-change, half-mile workouts at Keeneland. Two of those came from the starting gate.

Casse has been hot at Ellis, with wins in both of his starts this meet, and Fierce Debate can add another to his tally. At 6-1, a win bet is definitely in order, along with an exacta, with Fierce Debate over fellow first-time starters #4 Gorgeous Carina (4-1) and #8 India Ink (3-1).

$20 to win on #2 Fierce Debate
$5 exacta: 2 with 4,8 ($10)
Total: $30

Lone Star Park, Race 11: Maiden special weight (five furlongs on turf, 7:57 p.m. ET)

Want to take advantage of the Exacta Insurance offer? Race 11 at Lone Star Park seems like a prime opportunity.

With a dozen runners, the exacta should pay well, and the thought of getting our money back for a “close but not quite” outcome is appealing.

For the top of our ticket, we’ll support #1 Solar Reflection (5-1), who is the fastest horse on paper. Although the three-year-old filly hasn’t cracked the trifecta in four starts, she threw down competitive 76 and 78 Brisnet Speed ratings when she finished fourth and sixth in 5 1/2-furlong maiden turf sprints at Fair Grounds during the winter.

The competition should be a bit easier at Lone Star, which sets the stage for Solar Reflection to spring an upset victory in her first start since February. For second place, we’ll use #5 Our Southern Girl (8-5), who rallied to finish second by a head over this course, distance, and class level June 20.

In addition to our exacta play, we’ll place a $10 win bet on Solar Reflection.

$10 to win on #1 Solar Reflection
$10 exacta: 1 with 5
Total: $20

Carryover watch

Arlington Park, Race 1: $4,040 Pick 8 carryover (3:25 p.m. ET)

Eight winners in a row is no easy feat, but if you want to play the Pick 8 at Arlington Park, Friday seems like as good a day as any.

Not only does the 20-cent wager feature a $4,040 carryover, but it also presents a more manageable sequence than usual. Just 61 horses (average of 7.6 per race) have been entered, which equates to “only” 9,483,264 possible outcomes.

To avoid spending $1,896,652.80 (the cost to cover every horse in the sequence), we’ll need to reduce the number of runners on our Pick 8 ticket. The best way to do that is to find reliable singles, even if they’re short-priced favorites.

With this goal in mind, we’ve identified a couple horses who appear reasonably certain to visit the Arlington winner’s circle Friday.

Race 1: #6 Estardo (6-5)

Although Estardo faded in two starts on dirt and turf last summer, the daughter of Conveyance produced a much stronger effort when she switched to the Arlington Polytrack for a $15,000 maiden claimer last month. In a six-furlong sprint, her first start back from a long layoff, Estardo led all the way to obliterate her pursuers by eight lengths and earned a career-best 79 Brisnet Speed rating.

Estardo looks like a perfect fit in this $6,250 claimer for non-winners of two races lifetime. Considering her rivals have never earned a figure better than 69, it’s hard to envision Estardo losing, if she brings her "A" game.

Trainer Joel Zawitz has been hot at Arlington this meet, with 30 wins from 78 starts (38%), and Estardo figures to get a perfect trip, setting or pressing the pace, from her outside draw. What’s not to like?

Race 7: #4 P H Factor (7-5)

P H Factor has been an win machine this year, particularly since he was claimed by Arlington’s leading trainer, Larry Rivelli.

P H Factor has won six of his last seven starts, including five in gate-to-wire fashion. Along the way, he’s consistently posted sharp Brisnet Speed ratings, in the 80-92 range.

Granted, P H Factor has faced easier competition than the $14,000 starter/optional claiming company he’ll encounter Friday. But on the bright side, he has won his last two turf starts convincingly, including one over Friday’s course and one-mile distance. P H Factor also owns the best recent Brisnet Speed ratings and figures to shake loose on an uncontested lead, which sets the stage for another victory.

Good luck!