Keeler Johnson's Picks and Plays for Keeneland Opening Weekend

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October 4th, 2018

Get ready, everyone! The much-anticipated Keeneland fall meet kicks off on Friday, and opening weekend is packed with top-class stakes races featuring some of the best horses in the country.

With high-class competition, large fields, and low-takeout wagers, Keeneland is always popular among horsemen and handicappers alike. Looking to get in on the action? Here are a few prospective picks and plays to get you started….

Friday, October 5

Race 8: Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (gr. II)

No reason to get bogged down in the specifics—I’ve been a big fan throughout the summer of the sensationally fast three-year-old sprinter #1 Promises Fulfilled, and I think the six-furlong distance of the Phoenix Stakes is exactly perfect for him. This is a horse who can sprint a half-mile in less than :44 seconds and just keep going, and that speed should give him an insurmountable advantage over his talented (but less tactical) older rivals #2 Whitmore and #4 Limousine Liberal.

$10 to win on #1 Promises Fulfilled $5 exacta: 1 with 2,4 ($10) $10 double: 1 with 3 Total: $30

Race 9: Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I)

It’s hard not to be impressed with #3 Restless Rider, who shrugged off a disastrous run around the far turn of the June 30th Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs to win by a breathtaking 11 ¼ lengths. Subsequently, she proved her class by finishing a game second with a wide trip in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, and on paper she’s facing an easier field in the Alcibiades. She’s bred to handle the extra distance and will be racing on Lasix for the first time, so I’m expecting a big run and believe her 3-1 morning line odds are fair.

$10 to win on #1 Restless Rider $5 exacta: 1 with 6,8 ($10) Total: $20

Saturday, October 6

Race 9: Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I)

#1 Signalman is stepping up in class, but I like the potential he’s shown in his first two starts, and the addition of Lasix could be beneficial as he stretches out in distance. I’ve already outlined my overall betting strategy for this race (click here to read), but I’ll add a small double to the mix, playing Signalman and #5 Dream Maker with my top choice in the next race:

$5 double: 1,5 with 9 ($10)

Race 10: Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I)

There are plenty of options here, as I discussed in my separate preview of the race (click here to read), but #9 Analyze It should appreciate the cutback in distance and should be poised to get first run at the leaders in this huge field—no small advantage considering that the closers will have to try and work their way through traffic. In addition to the wagers discussed in my race-specific preview, I’ll single Analyze It in the second half of the above-mentioned double starting in Race 9.

Sunday, October 7

Race 9: Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I)

#7 Talk Veuve to Me, #8 Champagne Problems, and #11 Blue Prize are all very honest graded stakes winners with high-class form lines. I’m particularly intrigued by Talk Veuve to Me, who held on pretty well to finish fourth in a high-quality renewal of the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) despite getting burned up in a fast pace. Let’s box these three in the exacta and see if we can’t beat #4 Eskimo Kisses, who benefited from the fast pace while winning the Alabama:

$3 exacta: 7,8,11 with 7,8,11 ($18)

Good luck!