Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of the day for Dec. 29

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 29th, 2020

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Tuesday, Dec. 29 at Mahoning Valley and Parx Racing. Win bets will be the focus of the day, with a handful of exotic plays to spice up the action.

Mahoning Valley Race 2: $15,000 Claiming (1 mile and 70 yards, 1:12 p.m. ET)

#2 Glenville Gardens (3-1) won the 2016 Play the King (G2) sprinting 7 furlongs on turf and remains in productive form, albeit at a lower level. The 8-year-old gelding won three claiming races during the summer and fall at Woodbine and will drop down from the $20,000 level to the $15,000 level on Tuesday.

But here’s the problem—Glenville Gardens has failed to finish within a dozen lengths of the winner in two starts on dirt. Even while facing easier company at Mahoning Valley, there’s no guarantee he’ll thrive in his first dirt run since 2015.

As a result, we’ll favor the chances of #4 Levanto (2-1). Conditioned by ultra-hot trainer Larry Smith (a 43% winner at Mahoning this meet), Levanto has cracked the exacta in four of his last five starts. On Dec. 1 at Mountaineer, the 6-year-old gelding employed pace-tracking tactics to dominate a 1-mile allowance race by 6 1/2 lengths, earning a solid 92 Brisnet Speed rating.

With Mahoning’s leading rider Sonny Leon in the saddle, Levanto is the runner to beat.

  • $20 to win on #4 Levanto
  • $5 exacta: 4 with 1,3 ($10)

Total: $30

Mahoning Valley: Race 4: Allowance (6 furlongs, 2:08 p.m. ET)

Speed is abundant in this allowance sprint for 2-year-olds, which could lend an advantage to morning line favorite #2 Hardly Swayed (2-1). A stoutly-bred son of Bernardini out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, Hardly Swayed has shown the ability to rate off the pace, rallying from 2 1/2 lengths behind to dominate a 6-furlong maiden special weight at Mahoning Valley last month. With Sonny Leon aboard, Hardly Swayed pulled clear to defeat next-out winner Timeless Bounty by three lengths.

This effort produced a solid 77 Brisnet Speed rating, and Hardly Swayed’s pedigree suggests he’ll keep improving with experience and maturity. Leon retains the mount for hot trainer Rey Hernandez, so we’ll favor Hardly Swayed with a win bet and play the dark bay colt on top of a trifecta.

  • $21 to win on #2 Hardly Swayed
  • $1.50 trifecta: 2 with 4,6 with 4,6,7,8 ($9)

Total: $30

Parx Racing: Race 6: $12,500 Starter Allowance (1 mile and 70 yards, 2:40 p.m. ET)

Having posted a trio of Brisnet Speed ratings in the 91-94 range during the second half of 2020, #1 Slingin Sammy B (4-1) brings the best recent speed figures to Tuesday’s race. The 4-year-old daughter of Cross Traffic was particularly hot during the fall, winning three straight races at Parx by daylight margins.

Slingin Sammy B faltered when facing tougher competition in the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper S. at Gulfstream Park last month, but returning to Parx and dropping down to starter allowance company can trigger a rebound. She boasts a 3-for-5 record running 1 mile and 70 yards and will reunite with Parx’s leading rider Mychel Sanchez, who steered Slingin Sammy B to a 3 1/4-length allowance win over this distance on Nov. 10.

#3 Squan’s Kingdom (9-2) and #4 Tomarie (8-1) can round out the exacta.

  • $20 to win on #1 Slingin Sammy B
  • $5 exacta: 1 with 3,4 ($10)

Total: $30

Good luck!