Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of the day for Feb. 23

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February 23rd, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Tuesday, Feb. 23 at Mahoning Valley and Turf Paradise, including a trio of $10 win bets capitalizing on the TwinSpires Winter Midweek Bet Back promotion.

Mahoning Valley: Race 6: Allowance (5 1/2 furlongs, 3:04 p.m. ET)

#6 Hardly Swayed (7-2) isn’t the fastest horse on paper, and as a three-year-old facing older rivals, he won’t be the most popular betting choice. But as a son of Bernardini out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, Hardly Swayed has the pedigree to improve with maturity, and I’m optimistic he’ll outrun expectations on Tuesday.

Hardly Swayed has already won twice sprinting against fellow sophomores at Mahoning Valley, breaking his maiden with a patient tracking trip before wiring an allowance race with ease. He subsequently faltered when facing tougher company in the one-mile Smarty Jones S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but there’s no reason to think he won’t rebound while dropping back down in class and distance.

After all, Hardly Swayed is conditioned by high-percentage trainer Rey Hernandez (a 40% winner at Mahoning), who enlists leading jockey Sonny Leon to ride. In a race packed with speed, Hardly Swayed can sit an ideal tracking trip before challenging in the homestretch.

The consistent #4 Flat Out Prize (2-1) can round out the exacta.

  • $10 to win on #6 Hardly Swayed
  • $10 Exacta: 6 with 4
  • Total: $20

Mahoning Valley: Race 7: $5,000 Claiming (One mile, 3:33 p.m. ET)

Heavy favorite #4 Mor Breeze (6-5) looms as the lone front-runner on paper, which would normally be a distinct advantage. The four-year-old filly has wired two straight races over one mile at Mahoning Valley and figures to shake loose on an uncontested lead with Sonny Leon aboard.

But the track at Mahoning Valley has recently been very slow and tiring, placing speed horses at a disadvantage while favoring closes. And since Mor Breeze isn’t a standout from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, perhaps #6 The New Miami (2-1) can steal the show.

A late-running daughter of champion juvenile Shanghai Bobby, The New Miami posted a sharp 74 Brisnet Speed rating when rallying to finish third over this track, distance, and class level on Feb. 17. Whereas Mor Breeze is facing tougher company off her latest victory, The New Miami is sticking to the same level, setting the stage for a mild upset.

We’ll bet The New Miami to win and play her over Mor Breeze in a cold exacta.

  • $10 to win on #6 The New Miami
  • $10 Exacta: 6 with 4
  • Total: $20

Turf Paradise: Race 2: $12,500 Claiming (One mile, 3:22 p.m. ET)

The form of #7 Olympic Express (5-2) has been muddied by a couple of recent runs sprinting against tougher company, but the son of Afleet Express is 3-for-4 racing one mile and even fared well sprinting over this class level on Jan. 13, rallying to finish second with a respectable 86 Brisnet Speed rating.

Dropping back down the class ladder, while simultaneously returning to his preferred distance, stamps Olympic Express as the horse to beat. High-percentage trainer Justin Evans wins at a 36% rate with horses transitioning from sprints to routes, and jockey Luis Negron (a 38% winner when teaming up with Evans) has been named to ride.

A $10 win bet will be our first order of business, but we’ll also play Olympic Express over #1 Be Gone Daddy (4-1) in the exacta.

  • $10 to win on #7 Olympic Express
  • $10 Exacta: 7 with 1
  • Total: $20

Good luck!