Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for Sept. 23

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September 23rd, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, Sept. 23 at Belmont Park, Thistledown, and Churchill Downs, along with suggested singles for a trio of non-jackpot carryovers at Arlington Park and Belmont.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Churchill Downs Bet Back: Get the value of your win bet back in bonus credit (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in eligible races from Sept. 17 through Oct. 3 at Churchill Downs.
  • $20,000 Twilight Thursday Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets at Churchill Downs on Thursdays from Sept. 16-30 to play for your share of a $20,000 prize pool.
  • Midweek Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in any race at Thistledown.
  • $16,000 Hoosier Park Pick 4 Hit It and Split It: Make a winning early Pick 4 wager at Hoosier Park to win a share of $1,000. Offer applies to the early Pick 4 (Races 3-6) at Hoosier Park every Thursday from Aug. 19 through Dec. 2.
  • Hoosier Park 5% Bet Back Banker: Get 5% back as a bonus on every wager (excluding show bets) made at Hoosier Park this Wednesday and Thursday.

Picks and plays

Belmont Park, Race 2: Maiden special weight (1 1/16 miles on turf, 2:38 p.m. ET)

Since 2019, trainer Shug McGaughey has won at a 15% rate with debut horses on turf. He has three wins from 16 starts (19%) with such runners in 2021, which suggests #3 Fort Washington (6-1) is worth a play in this maiden route for juveniles.

A son of popular stallion War Front (who sires 14% winners from first-time starters and 16% winners on turf), Fort Washington hasn’t missed a beat in his morning workouts, with 19 timed drills since beginning of May. Fitness shouldn’t be an issue for Fort Washington, whose dam — Azaelia — broke her maiden at age two and went on to place at the group level in France.

Let’s bet Fort Washington to win, then play him over logical favorite #2 Street Vendor (2-1) in a cold exacta.

$25 to win on #3 Fort Washington
$5 exacta: 3 with 2
Total: $30

Thistledown, Race 5: Allowance (six furlongs, 2:50 p.m. ET)

The three-year-old #6 Morestride (5-2) looks tough to beat in this allowance sprint.

The son of Midshipman has been facing Ohio-breds, and Thursday’s race is for open company, but Morestride already has a stakes win and enters off a gritty, six-furlong allowance victory at Thistledown, where he earned a 90 Brisnet Speed rating.

He has the tactical speed to work out a good trip and is fast enough to compete against this caliber of competition, so we’ll take advantage of the Midweek Bet Back promotion and place a $10 win bet on Morestride. Then we’ll play him over the speedy frontrunner #2 Time Heist (7-2) in the exacta.

$10 to win on #6 Morestride
$5 exacta: 6 with 2
Total: $15

Churchill Downs, Race 8: Maiden special weight (6 1/2 furlongs, 8:23 p.m. ET)

The fastest filly entered in this maiden dash for two-year-old fillies is #10 Bhoma (3-1).

The stoutly bred daughter of Bernardini ran strongly in her debut, a five-furlong sprint at Churchill during the spring, and finished second by a head, for a 80 Brisnet Speed rating that tops Thursday’s field.

Trainer Kenny McPeek doesn’t typically crank his juveniles to win on debut, so the fact Bhoma ran so well in her first start is encouraging. She has trained sharply since and figures to appreciate the stretch out in distance, considering half-sister Mom’s On Strike was a graded stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles.

To capitalize on the Churchill Downs Bet Back and $20,000 Twilight Thursday Leaderboard promotions, we’ll place a $10 win bet on Bhoma. Then we’ll toss in an exacta, with #6 Zumra Bayou (15-1) and #11 Scintillating Star (4-1) for second place.

$10 to win on #10 Bhoma
$5 exacta: 10 with 6,11 ($10)
Total: $20

Carryover watch

Arlington Park, Race 1: $5,738 Pick 8 carryover (3:25 p.m. ET)
Arlington Park, Race 3: $3,795 Pick 6 carryover (4:20 p.m. ET)

The final week of racing at Arlington Park’s 2021 meet kicks off with a pair of non-jackpot carryovers.

Both sequences involve Race 4, a $75,000 optional-claiming allowance for three-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. Just seven horses have been entered, which is the smallest field on an eight-race card that features 80 entries (10 per race) before scratches.

Race 4 might be the best opportunity to find a reliable single. Certainly that will be the case if #2 City Drifter (7-5) brings his "A" game, and there is no reason to think he won’t.

The son of Temple City has been in hot form over the Arlington lawn this summer, and he employed pace-tracking tactics to win a pair of $75,000 optional-claiming allowance sprints. On both occasions, he defeated #1 Etched in Stone (3-1), the second choice on the morning line.

With Brisnet Speed ratings of 86 and 83, City Drifter has run faster on grass than his rivals, which stamps the dark bay colt as a deserving single.

Belmont Park, Race 4: $74,372 Pick 6 carryover (3:39 p.m. ET)

Another non-jackpot carryover is up for grabs at Belmont Park.

Finding a single is difficult, because the six-race sequence contains 84 horses (14.3 per race) before scratches, including many also-eligible and main-track-only entrants. With rain a possibility Thursday, it’s hard to predict how scratches will affect the complexion of the fields.

The good news is, Race 7 — a one-mile maiden special weight for New York-breds — offers a potential single, in the form of #5 Blitz to Win (6-5).

The son of Speightster might be winless in six starts, but he has hit the board in all four of his tries at Thursday’s class level and most recently came home third in a 1 1/8-mile event at Saratoga. The cut back to one mile should help Blitz to Win’s chances, considering his strongest efforts have come in sprints.

In terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, he is something of a standout. Whereas none of his rivals have earned a figure better than 83, Blitz to Win’s best numbers are 88 and 94. His career-best effort came over a muddy track at Belmont Park during the spring, so if rain strikes Thursday, Blitz to Win may relish the conditions.

Good luck!