Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays for March 31

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March 31st, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for a busy Wednesday of racing at Oaklawn Park and Penn National.

At Oaklawn, a competitive nine-race card awaits. Thanks to the TwinSpires Winter Midweek Bet Back promotion, bettors can receive a refund on their first win bet in any race (up to $10) if their horse finishes second.

At Penn National, the main attraction is a $155,685 jackpot carryover in the Super High 5.

Picks and plays

Oaklawn Park, Race 3: $10,000 claiming (one mile, 3:02 p.m. ET)

#3 Wish You Were Mine (2-1) faced tougher company in three starts last season and looks tough to beat on the drop to the $10,000 claiming level.

The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee hasn’t run since November, but Wish You Were Mine produced a big effort off a long layoff last summer, when she dominated a one-mile, $25,000 optional-claiming allowance at Monmouth Park, with a career-best 90 Brisnet Speed rating.

Wish You Were Mine also has the tactical speed to work out a perfect trip, perhaps stalking the slightly speedier $8,000 claimer #5 Lucky Be a Lady (8-1). If the pace is modest, they can run 1-2 for a solid exacta payoff.

$10 to win on #3 Wish You Were Mine
$5 exacta: 3 with 5
Total: $15

Oaklawn Park, Race 5: $20,000 claiming (six furlongs, 4:06 p.m. ET)

This claiming sprint for Arkansas-breds appears ripe for conquest by #9 Lucky Every Day (3-1), who has faced open company in her last two starts. On Jan. 22, the chestnut filly carved out a solid pace in a $10,000 event over this track and distance, before she weakened in the final furlong to finish fourth by three lengths.

Lucky Every Day fits well enough in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings and is eligible to improve in her first start since she was claimed by high-percentage trainer Robertino Diodoro, a 31% winner this meet and a 24% winner with new claiming acquisitions. The addition of blinkers may also sharpen Lucky Every Day’s speed, which is a benefit, because 32% of six-furlong sprints at Oaklawn are won in gate-to-wire fashion.

#10 Louemma (4-1) and #3 Lil Tater (9-2) can battle for second place.

$10 to win on #9 Lucky Every Day
$5 exacta: 9 with 3,10 ($10)
Total: $20

Oaklawn Park, Race 8: $20,000 optional-claiming allowance (1 9/16 miles, 5:40 p.m. ET)

It’s not every day horses get a chance to negotiate 1 9/16 miles on dirt, so the stage could be set for a surprising result. Hopefully, the surprise will be a victory from #3 Strong Tide (8-1).

A son of the long-winded, Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner English Channel (whose progeny win at a lofty average distance of 8.1 furlongs), Strong Tide has been facing significantly tougher company than he’ll encounter Wednesday.

Three starts back, he rallied from a couple lengths off the pace to win a stakes race for Indiana-breds on dirt. Two starts back, he finished seventh against a quality field in the John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3). And last time out, he took a spin over the Oaklawn Park main track and finished fourth in a $40,000 optional-claiming allowance, where he was beaten just a half-length for second place.

The stretch out to 1 9/16 miles should suit Strong Tide, and the presence of jockey Florent Geroux (a 27% winner at Oaklawn) is a positive. Strong Tide should have enough tactical speed to stick within a couple lengths of the lead in this paceless race, which sets the stage for a big effort at a fair price.

In addition to our $10 win bet, we’ll box Strong Tide in the exacta, with #5 Hit the Ticket (12-1), who looks like the probable pacesetter.

$10 to win on #3 Strong Tide
$5 exacta box: 3,5 ($10)
Total: $20

Carryover watch

Penn National, Race 3: Allowance (5 1/2 furlongs, 6:52 p.m. ET)

The “Hollywood Hi 5” jackpot just keeps accumulating at Penn National and is at $155,685 for Wednesday’s card. The pot is up for grabs in Race 3, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance with 10 entries.

For those keeping count, the 20-cent wager has 30,240 possible outcomes before scratches, so it’s 4.5 times as competitive as an eight-horse field featuring 6,720 combinations.

Take a glance through Wednesday’s field, and you’ll find an abundance of frontrunners and speed horses. A fast pace seems certain, which should play to the strengths of #5 Interesting Legacy.

The runner-up by a length over this track and class level Feb. 5, Interesting Legacy has plenty of tactical speed, but the seven-year-old gelding is also tractable. He’s content to settle off the lead and take up the chase from a tracking position.

He seems destined to enjoy a perfect trip for hot jockey/trainer duo Tyler Conner and Erin McClellan, who have combined to win at a 20% rate over the last two months. Throw in the fact that Interesting Legacy owns the highest last-out Brisnet Speed rating in the field, and I think we’ve found the right horse to key on top of our tickets.

Underneath, I’m keen to support #10 Martinkelly, a consistent runner who has cracked the trifecta in five of his last six starts at this track and class level. A versatile gelding capable of running well from anywhere in the pack, Martinkelly finished just two lengths behind Interesting Legacy on Feb. 5 and is another who stands to benefit from a contested pace.

If we then oppose the longshot frontrunners #4 U Rock It (15-1) and #8 Four of Swords (8-1) — whose Brisnet Speed ratings suggest they’ll be hard-pressed to survive a fast pace — we can box the remaining six runners without breaking the bank, which gives us a solid chance to enjoy a nice payday.

20-cent Hollywood Hi 5: 5 with 10 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 ($24)
20-cent Hollywood Hi 5: 5 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 with 10 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 with 1,2,3,6,7,9 ($24)
Total: $48

Good luck!