Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of the day for Jan. 4
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Monday, Jan. 4 at Delta Downs, Mahoning Valley, and Turf Paradise, including a 20-1 longshot in the Hank Mills Sr. S.
Delta Downs: Race 8: Sam’s Town S. (5 furlongs, 5:07 p.m. ET)
Speed is dominant in 5-furlong sprints at Delta Downs. Horses with Brisnet “E” (Early) and “E/P” (Early/Presser) running styles respectively win 46% and 31% of these events, and 39% of the winners prevail in gate-to-wire fashion.
There are several speedy contenders to choose from in the Sam’s Town, but the quickest of all might be #5 Verrazano First (7-2). Victorious in five of his last six starts, the son of Verrazano has posted a bevy of triple-digit Brisnet E1 and E2 Pace ratings. He was particularly impressive in a $20,000 claiming race on Nov. 27, carving out splits of :21.63 and :44.98 before drawing off to win by 8 3/4 lengths.
Trained at the time by Karl Broberg, Verrazano First was claimed by Brittany Van Berg and proceeded to win a pair of increasingly tough allowance/optional claiming events in December. But Broberg claimed Verrazano First right back and will step him up in class for the Sam’s Town. Considering Broberg wins at a 35% rate at Delta (and jockey Timothy Thornton at a 32% clip), tackling stakes company might well be a winning move for Verrazano First.
$18 to win on #5 Verrazano First
$1 trifecta: 5 with 1,2,6,7 with 1,2,6,7 ($12)
Mahoning Valley: Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (6 furlongs, 1:40 p.m. ET)
#2 Iamgoingtoshine owns the best Brisnet Speed rating in this modest field of Ohio-breds, putting up a 72 when rallying to finish third at this class level two starts back. She doesn’t have much tactical speed, and that could be a challenge in a race without much pace on paper. But she’s always plugging away at the finish and seems likely to reproduce her typical effort for hot trainer James McDonald, a 25% winner this meet.
#3 Dial Again (2-1), a Wesley Ward trainee set to be guided by Mahoning’s top jockey Sonny Leon, can vie with the reasonably speedy #5 Lejeune (5-1) to complete the exacta.
$20 to win on #2 Iamgoingtoshine
$5 exacta: 2 with 3,5 ($10)
Turf Paradise: Race 8: Hank Mills Sr. S. (6 1/2 furlongs, 5:39 p.m. ET)
Call it a shot in the dark, but I’m willing to take a chance with longshot #9 Be Gone Daddy (20-1). The son of Scat Daddy was last seen competing against allowance company on the much tougher Florida circuit, and while his latest efforts are uninspiring at first glance, his Brisnet Speed ratings fit reasonably well in Monday’s sprint.
Trainer Marcus Vitali hasn’t saddled a starter since 2019, but he was previously a 25% winner with horses returning from extended breaks, so I’m optimistic Be Gone Daddy will be ready to roll off the layoff. He did breeze a rapid half-mile on Dec. 21 at Turf Paradise, clocking the distance in :47 flat.
We’ll place a small win bet on Be Gone Daddy and call it a day.
$15 to win on #9 Be Gone Daddy