Keeler Johnson's picks and plays July 15

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

July 15th, 2022

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, July 15 at Ellis Park and Saratoga, along with horses to play in carryovers at Saratoga and Gulfstream Park.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Saratoga Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in select races at Saratoga.
  • Rest of the World Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in eligible races at Rosehill (Australia).

Picks and Plays

Saratoga: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 1:05 p.m. ET)

When trainer Tom Amoss debuts a juvenile in a dirt sprint at Saratoga, it’s wise to sit up and take notice. Amoss picked up two wins and a second from three such starters at Saratoga last year, good for a 67% win rate and a 100% in-the-money rate.

That’s why we’re keen to support the unraced Amoss trainee #6 Camp Akeela (3-1) in this maiden sprint for New York-bred juvenile fillies. The daughter of Laoban is a half-sibling to a stakes winner and has cranked out seven workouts in preparation for her debut, capped off by five furlongs in 1:01 from the Churchill Downs starting gate.

We’ll look for either #3 Maddie’s Grace (7-2) or #5 Im Just Kiddin (5-2) to complete the exacta.

  • $15 Exacta: 6 with 3,5 ($30)

Ellis Park: Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (one mile on turf, 3:14 p.m. ET)

Since 2017, trainer Brad Cox has compiled an excellent 9-for-28 (32%) record debuting juveniles in turf routes at Ellis Park. Keeping this stat in mind, Cox’s unraced #10 Flashy Gem (6-1) warrants respect in this one-mile turf test for two-year-olds.

A daughter of hot young sire Bolt d’Oro, Flashy Gem was produced by the Smart Strike mare Garnet, whose best foal to date—Bye Bye—won the Soaring Softly S. (G3) sprinting seven furlongs on turf. Flashy Gem has put together a lengthy work tab (including a swift half-mile from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 3/5) and looks ready to fire a competitive shot on debut.

Our primary play will be a win bet on Flashy Gem, but we’ll also key her over #6 Thirty Carats (10-1), #8 Lady Squared (4-1), and #9 What an Honor (6-1) in the exacta.

  • $20 to win on #10 Flashy Gem
  • $3 Exacta: 10 with 6,8,9 ($9)
    Total: $29

Ellis Park: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (six furlongs, 3:42 p.m. ET)

Trainer Victoria Oliver wins at just a 5% rate with first-time starters, but #10 Levity (10-1) has been training with promise at Keeneland. On June 24, the well-bred son of Candy Ride clocked a bullet half-mile in :47 2/5. Then on July 1, Levity traveled the same distance from the starting gate in an identical bullet clocking of :47 2/5.

Two of Levity’s key rivals on Friday are returning from long layoffs, so we’ll take a shot betting Levity to win and keying him over #1 Norgay (8-1) and #3 Pine Valley (3-1) in a small exacta.

  • $12 to win on #10 Levity
  • $4 Exacta: 10 with 1,3 ($8)
    Total: $20

Carryover Watch

Gulfstream Park, Race 1: $5,020 Super High 5 carryover (2:55 p.m. ET)

The racing week at Gulfstream Park kicks off on Friday with a carryover to chase right off the bat. Race 1, a $50,000 maiden claimer for two-year-old fillies sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on dirt, features a $5,020 carryover in the $1 Super High 5.

Nine horses have passed the entry box, which equates to 15,120 possible outcomes. Eight of the entrants are first-time starters, so deciphering the field could be tricky.

We’ll start with a fairly simple strategy: keying morning line favorite #8 Lady Ocean (3-1) on top of our tickets. Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. wins at a solid 19% rate with horses debuting in maiden claimers, and Lady Ocean has assembled a promising work tab highlighted by a swift half-mile in :47 at Gulfstream. Lady Ocean seems like as probable a winner as any in this competitive heat.

#4 Chipmunk (7-2) is another logical contender for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, who wins at a 15% rate with first-time starters. But Casse’s win rate with horses debuting in maiden claimers drops to 11% (with only 25% finishing in the money), suggesting Chipmunk is more likely to vie for a minor award than visit the winner’s circle.

#2 Don’t Annoy Me (6-1) is a daughter of Uncaptured, who won five stakes as a juvenile. Trainer Kathleen O’Connell strikes at a 15% rate with horses debuting in maiden special weights, and Uncaptured sires a decent 11% winners from first-time starters. Don’t Annoy Me can’t be dismissed from contention.

#3 Lady Liv (9-2) hails from the barn of Fausto Gutierrez, who has gone 0-for-17 debuting horses in maiden claimers in recent years. But Lady Liv has cranked out a couple of fast half-mile workouts at Palm Meadows, including a bullet :47 2/5 move on June 30, so she may have the speed to factor on debut.

#1 Conceptus (4-1) has been training with promise at Gulfstream Park and is a daughter of the speedy Sharp Azteca, who sires 27% winners from first-time starters. But trainer Gustavo Delgado’s 16% win rate with all first-time starters drops to 7% with horses debuting in maiden claimers.

#5 Red Delicious (20-1) is the lone experienced filly in the field. She ran fourth in a five-furlong maiden special weight over the Gulfstream Park Tapeta on May 26 and is eligible to crack the top five while dropping in class and picking up apprentice jockey Jason Huayas, who rides with a 10-pound weight allowance.

Here’s how we’ll bet the Super High 5:

  • $1 Super High 5: 8 with 2,4 with 1,2,3,4 with 1,2,3,4,5 with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 ($72)

Saratoga, Race 5: $120,365 Pick 6 carryover (3:21 p.m. ET)

Saratoga didn’t waste any time tossing up a six-figure, non-jackpot carryover for bettors to pursue. The second card of the meet features a $120,365 prize pool in the $1 Pick 6.

The six-race sequence is stacked with large and competitive fields, so finding a single is bound to be challenging. Some folks might lean toward #3 Twilight Gleaming (2-1) in Race 8, the Coronation Cup S. for three-year-old fillies sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. Twilight Gleaming won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) last season and looms as an obvious favorite for high-percentage trainer Wesley Ward.

But Twilight Gleaming had to work harder than expected to win the five-furlong Mamzelle S. at Churchill Downs two months ago, so as the 2-1 morning line favorite in a large field, Twilight Gleaming doesn’t necessarily offer enticing betting value.

So rather than single Twilight Gleaming, what if we also use the intriguing midrange longshot #7 Static Fire (8-1)? The daughter of Speightster won her debut over this course and distance last summer, beating a next-out winner by 3 1/2 lengths. Even better, Static Fire recently returned from a long layoff to win a six-furlong dirt allowance at Churchill Downs, scoring by 1 3/4 lengths over a next-out winner while earning a solid 94 Brisnet Speed rating.

With her perfect 2-for-2 record and excellent tactical speed, Static Fire offers enticing betting value at her morning line price. She could be the key to cashing a big Pick 6 payoff if she upsets Twilight Gleaming.

Good luck!