Keeler Johnson's picks and plays Jan. 18

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January 18th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Wednesday, Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, along with horses to single in Pick 5 carryovers at Turfway Park and Penn National.

Picks and Plays

Gulfstream Park: Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (six furlongs, 1:08 p.m. ET)

#1 Mama Maria (6-5) looks like a standout favorite in this dirt dash for Florida-bred sophomore fillies. The daughter of hot young sire Girvin ran second over this track, distance, and class level on Nov. 11, beaten less than a length by next-out winner Kitty Quick.

Mama Maria subsequently finished second in a $50,000 maiden optional claimer against non-state-restricted competition at Gulfstream. These efforts produced Brisnet Speed ratings of 85 and 80, two of the three highest numbers in Wednesday’s field, so Mama Maria should be tough to deny while returning to the Florida-bred ranks.

We’ll look for either #4 Minxy (12-1) or #6 Free to Roam (5-1) to complete the exacta.


  • #1 Mama Maria (6-5)
  • #4 Minxy (12-1)
  • #6 Free to Roam (5-1)


  • $15 Exacta: 1 with 4,6 ($30)

Tampa Bay Downs: Race 4: $40,000 Maiden Claiming (six furlongs, 1:57 p.m. ET)

#5 Faccia Bella (3-1) showed promise at Canterbury Park last summer, cracking the trifecta in a trio of maiden special weights. She was especially strong in a five-furlong turf dash on Sept. 15, dueling for the lead through fractions of :20.98 and :44.86 before battling on to finish second by a neck against the future stakes-placed filly Bangie Go.

Faccia Bella is dropping blinkers and adding Lasix for her sophomore debut, both of which could trigger improvement. She’s also descending into a $40,000 maiden claimer for ultra-hot trainer Kerri Raven, who has gone 4-for-7 (57%) at Tampa Bay Downs since November. Throw in jockey Pablo Morales (a 21% winner at Tampa) and we should have a recipe for victory.

#1 Honey Hauler (9-2) and #4 R Swirvin Girvin (7-5) can battle for the minor awards.


  • #5 Faccia Bella (3-1)
  • #4 Swirvin Girvin (7-5)
  • #1 Honey Hauler (9-2)


  • $15 to win on #5 Faccia Bella
  • $5 Exacta: 5 with 1,4 ($10)
  • $2.50 Trifecta: 5 with 1,4 with 1,4 ($5)
  • Total: $30

Tampa Bay Downs: Race 7: $75,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (one mile on turf, 3:24 p.m. ET)

#4 Mission of Joy (5-2) impressed when making her turf debut in a one-mile maiden special weight at Tampa Bay Downs last month. After tracking the pace from third place, Mission of Joy accelerated strongly (running her final two furlongs in approximately :11.59 and :11.44) to dominate by four lengths.

A well-bred daughter of Kitten’s Joy out of a Smart Strike mare, Mission of Joy still has upside for improvement and has every chance to take down #2 Tall Girl (5-2) and #5 Grand Oak (9-5) in her first try against winners.


  • #4 Mission of Joy (5-2)
  • #2 Tall Girl (5-2)
  • #5 Grand Oak (9-5)


  • $20 to win on #4 Mission of Joy
  • $5 Exacta: 4 with 2,5 ($10)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Penn National, Race 3: $11,275 Pick 5 carryover (6:54 p.m. ET)

The Wednesday card at Penn National features an enticing five-figure carryover in the $1 Pick 5. To be precise, the prize pool is $11,275.

Looking for a single to build tickets around? The best opportunity might come in Race 7, the final leg of the Pick 5. The event in question is an $8,000 claimer for horses who haven’t won a race since July 18, and the distance is six furlongs on dirt, conditions that should suit #2 Wild Caramelo (5-2) just fine.

Winner of a $12,500 claimer sprinting at Parx Racing in September 2021, Wild Caramelo has only run twice since then, finishing seventh in a $25,000 claimer and sixth in a $16,000 claimer during May 2022. On both occasions, Wild Caramelo set the pace before tiring.

We won’t judge Wild Caramelo too harshly for fading against tougher competition. After all, in the $16,000 claimer (a six-furlong dirt dash at Penn National), Wild Caramelo set blazing fractions of :21.59 and :44.24 that burned out his two pace rivals as well.

Wild Caramelo is trained by Felix Flores-Coba, a 20% winner with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more. Wild Caramelo should be ready to fire a winning shot while dropping in class off the layoff.

Turfway Park, Race 4: $32,414 Pick 5 carryover (7:25 p.m. ET)

One of the most exciting carryovers to chase on Wednesday can be found in the 50-cent Late Pick 5 at Turfway Park, which boasts a non-jackpot prize pool worth $32,414.

A competitive sequence is on tap, but we can simplify the challenge if we’re willing to single the first-time starter #5 Daring Do (3-1) in Race 5, a maiden special weight for three-year-old fillies sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on Tapeta.

Daring Do is conditioned by ultra-hot trainer Wesley Ward, who has gone 11-for-25 (44%) at Turfway since Nov. 30. Ward wins at a 28% rate with first-time starters, and it’s worth noting he’s named hot apprentice jockey Walter Rodriguez to guide Daring Do. Rodriguez rides with a beneficial seven-pound weight allowance and has gone 18-for-81 (22%) at Turfway since Nov. 30, not to mention 2-for-4 (50%) teaming up with Ward over the last two months.

Add in the fact Daring Do is a daughter of four-time leading North American sire Into Mischief (whose progeny win at a lofty 16% rate on debut), and Daring Do looks tough to beat.

Good luck!