Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for April 17

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April 17th, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for a trio of graded stakes races on Saturday, April 17 at Keeneland, Oaklawn Park, and Santa Anita.

In addition, Keeler is sharing horses of note in a pair of lucrative Pick 6 carryovers scheduled for mandatory dispersals at Mahoning Valley and Gulfstream Park. Suffice to say, you won’t want to miss this action-packed day of racing!

Picks and Plays

Keeneland Race 9: Elkhorn S. (G2, 1 1/2 miles on turf, 5:30 p.m. ET)

#6 Tide of the Sea (4-1) is 2-for-2 racing 1 1/2 miles, highlighted by a gate-to-wire victory in the W. L. McKnight (G3) at Gulfstream Park two starts back. It’s no wonder why Tide of the Sea relishes running long on turf—he’s a son of Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner English Channel out of a mare by Belmont (G1) winner Empire Maker.

Tide of the Sea faltered slightly when switching to a pace-tracking style in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida (G2) last time out, falling less than a length short of catching front-running winner Phantom Currency. But a return to pacesetting tactics (and 1 1/2 miles) should make Tide of the Sea very dangerous for trainer Mike Maker, who has won the Elkhorn four times since 2013.

Fellow speed horse #4 Epic Bromance (12-1) can follow Tide of the Sea around the track to round out the exacta.

$25 to win on #6 Tide of the Sea
$5 Exacta: 6 with 4
Total: $30

Oaklawn Park Race 9: Oaklawn H. (G2, 1 1/8 miles, 5:49 p.m. ET)

#2 Express Train (5-2) has developed into a versatile Grade 1 performer, with runner-up efforts in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1) and 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) among his career highlights.

But I suspect Express Train is most comfortable racing middle distances. Two starts back, he rolled to a decisive 3 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual (G2), earning a career-best 104 Brisnet Speed rating. Returning to this class and distance for the Oaklawn H. should make Express Train tough to beat as the morning-line favorite.

#1 Silver State (4-1), fresh off back-to-back stakes wins at Oaklawn, is a logical choice for second place. But we’ll also use #8 Silver Prospector (10-1), who raced along a slow rail when finishing second in Oaklawn’s Razorback H. (G3) behind future Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Mystic Guide.

$25 to win on #2 Express Train
$5 Exacta: 2 with 1,8 ($10)
Total: $35

Santa Anita Race 8: Californian S. (G2, 1 1/8 miles, 7:51 p.m. ET)

#1 Growth Engine (8-1) endured an unlucky trip when returning from a layoff in the March 28 Santana Mile at Santa Anita. Making his first local start for new trainer John Sadler, Growth Engine appeared willing to advance around the final turn, but got boxed in behind a wall of horses and didn’t find racing room until much too late.

On paper, Growth Engine’s fifth-place effort is uninspiring. But I think he’s capable of running much better with a clean trip. His best Brisnet Speed ratings are good enough to vie for victory in the Californian, and adding blinkers has the potential to sharpen his tactical speed.

At 8-1 in a small field, Growth Engine is worth betting to win and playing on top in the trifecta.

$20 to win on #1 Growth Engine
$2.50 Trifecta: 1 with 5 with 2,3 ($5)
$2.50 Trifecta: 1 with 2,3 with 5 ($5)
Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Mahoning Valley, Race 3: $25,437 Buckeye Pick 6 Mandatory Payout

The final day of racing at the current Mahoning meet will see the dispersal of a $25,437 carryover in the 20-cent Buckeye Pick 6. Large fields are on tap, with a total of 58 horses (9.7 per race) in the mix before scratches.

To help keep ticket costs down, we’ve gone through the entries and picked out the most trustworthy single in the sequence:

Best single: Race 6, #4 Machismo (5-2)

Although Machismo faltered when stretching out over one mile last time out, he’d previously won a pair of $25,000 allowance/optional claiming sprints at Mahoning in sharp fashion. He was particularly dominant in a six-furlong dash on Jan. 30, rallying from just off the pace to score by 3 1/4 lengths with a 94 Brisnet Speed rating.

Machismo has been freshened since February and should fire a big shot for hot trainer Elliot Sullivan, who enlists leading jockey Sonny Leon to ride. Machismo won off an even longer layoff back in December, so there’s no reason to think fitness will be an issue in Saturday’s $15,000 claiming sprint. For all these reasons, Machismo looms as a logical single.

Gulfstream Park, Race 7: $570,895 Rainbow Pick 6 Mandatory Payout

A Rainbow Pick 6 carryover totaling more than half a million dollars will be dispersed among all winning bettors on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. With this lucrative prize on tap, the final pool for the 20-cent wager is projected to reach about $2.5 million.

With 70 horses entered before scratches, the sequence looks difficult to hit, and the payoff may be substantial.

Let’s highlight a live longshot worth betting, and a vulnerable favorite worth opposing.

Live longshot: Race 8, #1 Road to Success (6-1)

Trainer George Weaver wins at a 40% rate with horses debuting over one mile or farther, so we have to respect the chances of Weaver’s first-time starter Road to Success in this one-mile maiden special weight for three-year-olds.

A well-bred son of Quality Road out of the Dixie Union mare Union City, Road to Success is a half-brother to Unified, who won the Peter Pan (G2) racing 1 1/8 miles as a three-year-old. Road to Success has put together a lengthy work tab in preparation for his debut, so fitness shouldn’t be an issue. At 6-1, the bay colt is well worth including as a live longshot in the Rainbow 6.

Vulnerable favorite: Race 10, #4 Reservenotattained (2-1)

Reservenotattained was on fire during the winter at Gulfstream, using his excellent early speed to win three straight races. But his form has slipped in recent starts—after dominating a $25,000 starter allowance race on Jan. 8, he just barely managed to win a $16,000 event on Feb. 7, and then he faltered to finish third over the same class level on March 12.

Reservenotattained’s Brisnet Speed ratings have correspondingly dropped, so unless he turns things around on Saturday, he’ll be vulnerable to an upset while stepping up into a $35,000 allowance/optional claiming race. #1 Life in Shambles (3-1) and #3 Uncork the Bottle (8-1) loom as logical alternatives; the latter is particularly interesting while making his first start since being claimed by trainer Elizabeth Dobles, who strikes at a lofty 27% rate with new claiming acquisitions.

Good luck!