Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for April 8

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 8th, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Thursday, April 8 at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park.

$10 win bets, focusing on the TwinSpires Midweek Bet Back promotion, are high on Keeler’s agenda, along with chasing the ever-increasing Super High Five jackpot carryover at Keeneland.

Picks and Plays

Keeneland, Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (4 1/2 furlongs, 1:39 p.m. ET)

#7 Twilight Gleaming (8-5) is the morning-line favorite for trainer Wesley Ward, who has gone 26-for-55 (47%) in Keeneland’s spring juvenile races since 2016. But Twilight Gleaming is bred top and bottom to excel on turf, and two of her three workouts have come over the grass course at Palm Meadows. The Stonestreet Stables color-bearer looks like a great fit for Royal Ascot in June, but I’m not sure she’ll relish debuting on dirt at Keeneland.

Instead of backing Twilight Gleaming at a short price, we’ll take a shot against her with #6 Shesgotattitude (2-1). Trained by John Ennis (who saddled two-year-old Bohemian Frost to an impressive victory on opening day), Shesgotattitude has flashed plenty of speed in the mornings, and most recently clocked a bullet three furlongs in :34 at Keeneland. She looms as the logical alternative if Twilight Gleaming misfires.

Taking advantage of the Midweek Bet Back promotion, we’ll place a $10 win bet on Shesgotattitude. Then we’ll play her over Twilight Gleaming in a straight exacta.

$10 to win on #6 Shesgotattitude
$5 exacta: 6 with 7
Total: $15

Keeneland, Race 7: Allowance/optional claiming (1 1/8 miles, 4:24 p.m. ET)

#1 Promise Keeper (2-1) is the morning-line favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has gone four-for-six (67%) to start the Keeneland meet. Promise Keeper owns the highest Brisnet Speed rating in Thursday’s field — a 94 when he led all the way to dominate a Feb. 6 maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park by five lengths.

But Promise Keeper’s blowout victory came over a sloppy track, and he completely misfired over dry footing in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last month. The good news is, there’s rain in the forecast for Thursday at Keeneland, so Promise Keeper may get another wet track to work with. The bad news is, he’s coming off a very disappointing effort, and it’s hard to predict how he’ll bounce back.

An alternative to Promise Keeper is #4 Warrior in Chief (4-1), a determined, pace-tracking maiden winner at Churchill Downs last fall. Trained by Kenny McPeek, Warrior in Chief recently returned from a three-month layoff to finish third in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream, behind next-out Florida Derby (G1) winner Known Agenda.

Warrior in Chief is eligible to improve in his second start of the season. He’ll also add blinkers at Keeneland, which sets the stage for a favorable, forwardly placed trip over Thursday’s (presumably) wet track.

Let’s bet Warrior in Chief to win, then play him over Promise Keeper in the exacta.

$20 to win on #4 Warrior in Chief
$5 exacta: 4 with 1
Total: $25

Oaklawn Park, Race 8: Allowance/optional claiming (1 1/16 miles, 5:40 p.m. ET)

In terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, the six fillies and mares in this race are pretty evenly matched. The slowest entrant on paper is morning-line favorite #1 Josie (9-5), who kicked off 2021 with a rallying victory in a one-mile allowance over a sloppy track at Oaklawn.

You can make a case for anyone in this competitive field, so I’m inclined to seek a price play with #7 Fire Coral (5-1). Victorious in two-turn maiden and allowance events at Oaklawn last year, Fire Coral went off form against stakes company during the spring and summer of 2020, with a fourth-place effort in the Indiana Oaks (G3)  her best effort.

But Fire Coral wasn’t disgraced when she returned from a long layoff Feb. 11 at Oaklawn. Racing one mile over a muddy track, Fire Coral rallied to finish fourth, just 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner. As a daughter of Curlin, out of an A.P. Indy mare, Fire Coral is bred to improve with maturity, and her speed ratings already look competitive.

Taking advantage of the Midweek Bet Back offer, we’ll place a $10 win bet on Fire Coral and call it a day.

$10 to win on #6 Fire Coral

Carryover watch

Keeneland, Race 2: $41,792 Super High Five jackpot

The Super High Five carryover continues to grow at Keeneland and has reached $41,792 for Thursday’s card. The jackpot-style wager is only available in races with seven or more betting interests, which is every event except Race 1 and Race 7 on Thursday.

The first chance to construct a unique winning ticket (and sweep the whole pool) comes in Race 2, where Shesgotattitude looms as an intriguing alternative to Twilight Gleaming. If you’re willing to place your faith in these two to finish first and second in our preferred order, the 50-cent wager can be played on a reasonable budget:

Race 2, 50-cent Super High Five: 6 with 7 with 2,3,5 with 2,3,4,5, with ALL ($18)

But assuming the jackpot isn’t won in Race 2, Race 3 is an even more appealing opportunity for bettors on limited budgets to play the Super High Five.

The event in question is a $20,000 claiming race, and just seven horses have been entered. Considering 55% of one-mile races at Keeneland last meet were won in gate-to-wire fashion, the capable sprinter #6 Algebraic (4-1) and the consistent pace-tracking router #7 Lastchanceatglory (3-1) loom as logical contenders. Both are returning to dirt after so-so efforts on other surfaces, and they have the speed to be contenders from the outset.

Race 3, 50-cent Super High Five: 6,7 with 6,7 with 3,4,5 with 3,4,5 with ALL ($18)

If your goal is to construct a unique winning ticket and win the jackpot, you’ll want to check out Race 6. A maiden special weight for sophomores, the 1 1/8-mile turf test has attracted 16 entries, including four also-eligibles.

Most of the runners are lightly raced (or unraced), and several have never run on grass. We won’t attempt to recommend a ticket (we would want to see scratches first), but if you’re looking for a difficult handicapping challenge, Race 6 surely fits the bill.

Good luck!