Keeler Johnson's picks and plays May 20

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 20th, 2022

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, May 20 at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, including a ticket for Churchill’s $5,715 Super High 5 carryover.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Exacta Insurance: Receive refunds on exacta bets (up to $10) if your two selected horses finish in the first three home (but not in the winning order) at Pimlico. Offer applies to straight exacta bets only.
  • Rest of the World Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in any race at Rosehill (Australia).
  • Churchill Downs Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races at Churchill Downs.

Picks and Plays

Churchill Downs: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs on turf, 12:45 p.m. ET)

#7 Cowichan (9-5) looks ready to roll on debut for high-percentage trainer Wesley Ward, who wins at a 30% rate with first-time starters. The pricey auction acquisition has turned in a solid work tab and boasts a pedigree packed with speed and turf influences.

Indeed, Cowichan is a half-sibling to Ventura Diamonds, who won multiple stakes sprinting six furlongs on grass in England. We’ll bet Cowichan to win, then key her over #4 Moon Magic Chrissy (8-1) and #6 Grand Oak (2-1) in the exacta.

  • $20 to win on #7 Cowichan
  • $10 Exacta: 7 with 4,6 ($20)
    Total: $40

Churchill Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (4 1/2 furlongs, 1:14 p.m. ET)

Trainer Rusty Arnold isn’t known for saddling ready-to-win first-time starters, striking with just 4% of his debuting runners since 2019. But Arnold’s success rate with second-time starters jumps to 21%, which points toward #6 Late September (3-1) as a logical choice to win this maiden dash for juveniles.

Late September ran fine in his debut over this distance and class level at Keeneland last month, finishing fourth after hopping at the start. He looks like the best of the experienced runners on paper, so we’ll take advantage of the Churchill Downs Bet Back offer and place a $10 win bet on Late September.

We’ll also box him in a large exacta with #7 Tivy (5-2), a first-time starter who brings sharp workouts to the table for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

  • $10 to win on #6 Late September
  • $10 Exacta box: 6,7 ($20)
    Total: $30

Pimlico: Race 9: Hilltop S. (one mile on turf, 3:36 p.m. ET)

#4 Pizza Bianca (4-5) was North America’s top juvenile filly on turf last season, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) after placing second in the Natalma S. (G1). In the Breeders’ Cup, Pizza Bianca unleashed a terrific stretch rally through traffic to defeat multiple group stakes winner Malavath by half a length.

Pizza Bianca recently kicked off her 2022 campaign on a solid note, finishing a close second in the Memories of Silver S. at Aqueduct. Pizza Bianca is facing arguably easier competition in the Hilltop and should be capable of catching stablemate #6 Diamond Hands (5-1) and Tepin S. winner #8 Vergara (9-2) in the drive to the finish line.

Our first play will be a cold $10 exacta keying Pizza Bianca over Vergara, in order to capitalize on the Exacta Insurance offer. Then we’ll add a small trifecta to the mix.

  • $10 Exacta: 4 with 8
  • $3 Trifecta: 4 with 6,8 with 6,8 ($6)
    Total: $16

Carryover Watch

Churchill Downs, Race 9: $5,715 Super High 5 carryover (4:55 p.m. ET)

If you’re planning to bet the opening Friday races at Churchill Downs (maybe using the plays we outlined above?), you might as well stick around for the closing race of the afternoon. Race 9, a maiden special weight taking place over 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt, features a $5,715 carryover in the $1 Super High 5.

Nine horses have been entered, including a quartet of first-time starters, so there are 15,120 possible outcomes to consider. The question is, how do we handle #2 Plausible Denile (7-2)?

Plausible Denile has run four times so far, earning Brisnet Speed ratings of 82, 91, 87, and 80. Considering none of his experienced rivals have earned a figure higher than 85 (and that was months ago), Plausible Denile is the field’s fastest proven runner on paper.

But Plausible Denile’s two strongest ratings were earned running one mile or farther. In a six-furlong maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park last month, Plausible Denile was beaten to fourth place. His form has arguably been trending in a negative direction overall, so Plausible Denile—though a plausible contender—isn’t necessarily unbeatable at a short price.

The same goes for morning line favorite #6 Open Road (3-1). The son of Quality Road is conditioned by high-percentage trainer Brad Cox, who wins at a respectable 17% rate with first-time starters. But Cox typically wins at a much higher rate with second-time starters, and Open Road’s work tab isn’t overly flashy, so opposing him on top might be the way to go.

#9 Paid Twice (6-1) is another tricky contender to analyze. The son of Tapiture posted matching 77 Brisnet Speed ratings when finishing fifth and fourth in his first two starts against maiden special weight company at Keeneland and Churchill Downs last year. He’ll add Lasix and blinkers for his three-year-old debut and is eligible to improve this year, but trainer Victoria Oliver strikes at only an 8% rate with horses returning from long layoffs, suggesting Paid Twice might need to get a race under his belt before hitting peak form.

What about #7 York Tavern (10-1)? Hot trainer Cherie DeVaux wins at a solid 15% rate with first-time starters, and York Tavern has shown speed in the mornings, most notably blazing four furlongs from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 4/5. He might be a longshot on the morning line, but York Tavern is eligible to outrun expectations.

So how do we play the Super High 5? We’ll use Plausible Denile and York Tavern on top of our tickets, add Open Road and Paid Twice underneath, and hit the “ALL” button for fifth place.

  • $1 Super High 5: 2,7 with 2,6,7,9 with 2,6,7,9 with 2,6,7,9 with ALL ($60)

Good luck!