Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of the day for March 26
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Friday, March 26 at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, including a trio of exacta tickets.
Fair Grounds: Race 1: $12,500 Claiming (one mile and 70 yards, 2:00 p.m. ET)
This low-level claimer for Louisiana-breds hasn’t drawn the toughest field. None of the entrants have won more than a single race, even though four of the seven have accumulated more than 10 starts apiece.
That’s why I’m going to think outside the box with #6 Get Them Justin (4-1). True, the three-year-old gelding has never run farther than six furlongs. But this is part of his appeal—he has tactical speed and might secure a comfortable, forwardly placed trip in his route debut.
From a pedigree perspective, stretching out in distance shouldn’t bother Get Them Justin. His sire, Half Ours, placed second in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba (G3) ahead of Grade 1 winners Student Council and Perfect Drift. Furthermore, Get Them Justin’s dam—More Than Less—scored both of her career victories running one mile or farther.
Throw in the fact Get Them Justin is conditioned by high-percentage trainer Sturges Ducoing (who has gone 5-for-17 at Fair Grounds this meet), and I think we have a winning play. #2 Half a Bite (5-2) can complete the exacta.
$20 to win on #6 Get Them Justin
$5 Exacta: 6 with 2
Oaklawn Park: Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (six furlongs, 3:02 p.m. ET)
The experienced runners in this maiden sprint for sophomore fillies haven’t run particularly fast on the Brisnet Speed rating scale, so we’ll favor the well-bred first-time starter #5 Code Name Kate (9-2).
A daughter of champion and promising young sire Honor Code, Code Name Kate was produced by the Cherokee Run mare Run Kate Run, who has foaled seven winners from eight starters. Just as significantly, four of Run Kate Run’s foals won their debuts, highlighted by the early-maturing stakes winners Ami’s Dini and Kid Kate.
Code Name Kate has been training strongly for her first run under colors, most notably blazing a bullet :47 half mile on March 6 at Oaklawn. If Code Name Kate runs to her pedigree and workouts, she can spring a mild upset.
$20 to win on #5 Code Name Kate
$5 Exacta: 5 with 2,5 ($10)
Oaklawn Park: Race 8: Allowance (six furlongs, 5:40 p.m. ET)
#2 French Empire (8-5) has been on fire since being claimed by hot trainer Cipriano Contreras. The daughter of Street Sense has recorded three straight victories sprinting at Turfway Park and Oaklawn, repeatedly unleashing big rallies to win by daylight.
French Empire was especially eye-catching in a six-furlong allowance race on Feb. 4. Making her Oaklawn debut, French Empire surged from behind a fast pace to score by 3 1/2 lengths with a career-best 95 Brisnet Speed rating.
French Empire will be tough to deny if she brings her A-game on Friday, and after breezing a bullet half mile in :46 2/5 on March 19, it’s evident she’s still in strong form. Jockey Francisco Arrieta (a 36% winner when teaming up with Contreras) retains the mount, so let’s bet French Empire on top of exacta and trifecta tickets emphasizing #3 Shesomajestic (3-1) and #4 Headland (5-2) underneath.
$10 Exacta: 2 with 3,4 ($20)
$2.50 Trifecta: 2 with 3,4 with 1,3,4 ($10)