Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for April 29
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Thursday, April 29 at Churchill Downs and Lone Star Park, along with thoughts on a potential single and two vulnerable favorites in Belmont Park’s $61,086 Pick 6 carryover.
Before you place your wagers, be sure to opt in to today’s special offers from TwinSpires, including the Kentucky Derby Week Money Back, Midweek Bet Back, Trifecta Thursdays, and Lone Star Million Bet Club promotions. All are applicable to Keeler’s plays today!
Picks and plays
Trainer Steve Asmussen won with five of his seven starts with debuting two-year-old males at Churchill Downs last spring, a powerful statistic that suggests #3 Gunite (5-2) will be tough to beat in this maiden sprint for juveniles.
A son of the 2017 Horse of the Year, Gun Runner, Gunite was produced by the Cowboy Cal mare Simple Surprise, an early maturing two-year-old who won her spring debut at Churchill Downs and picked up the Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga.
Considering Gun Runner also won his first start as a juvenile, it’s safe to say Gunite is bred to win from an early age.
Gunite has shown some speed during morning training, and most notably clocked a bullet half-mile from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 1/5. All signs suggest he can lead the way home, over fellow first-time starters #5 Twenty Four Mamba (3-1) and #6 Tea Olive (2-1).
To take advantage of the Kentucky Derby Week Money Back offer, we’ll place a $10 win bet on Gunite and receive a refund if he finishes second or third. Then we’ll play him on top in the exacta and trifecta, hoping to receive a 15% bonus on our trifecta payoff through the Trifecta Thursdays promotion.
$10 to win on #3 Gunite
$4 exacta: 3 with 5,6 ($8)
$1 trifecta: 3 with 5,6 with 5,6 ($2)
Although this turf sprint for fillies and mares is slated to take place on turf, I suspect it will be transferred to the main track. With rain in the forecast for much of Thursday, I’m guessing track management will want to save the turf course for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) cards.
A switch to dirt would suit #9 Elle Z (6-1) just fine. The frontrunning daughter of City Zip dominated an off-the-turf renewal of the Mardi Gras S. at Fair Grounds two starts back, when she carved out a modest pace and kicked clear to win by two lengths.
Elle Z subsequently faltered in the Giant’s Causeway S. on grass at Keeneland, but I’ll draw a line through that effort, since it took place over yielding turf, conditions Elle Z had not previously encountered.
The good news is, Elle Z’s disappointing run last time figures to boost her price, so we’ll definitely place a $10 win bet on Elle Z and play her in a straight exacta, over Mardi Gras runner-up #1 Into Mystic (4-1).
$10 to win on #9 Elle Z
$5 exacta: 9 with 1
Speed performs well in one-mile turf races at Lone Star Park, which stamps #1 Dixie Mo (2-1) as the filly to beat in Thursday’s opener.
Trained by Asmussen (a 32% winner at Lone Star this meet), Dixie Mo has been competing against $16,000 claiming company on dirt at Oaklawn Park, where she most notably finished second over a muddy track Jan. 24.
But Dixie Mo has also hit the board in all four of her starts on turf, including a close third for a $15,000 tag at Remington Park last fall.
Dixie Mo brings competitive Brisnet Speed ratings to the mix, but more importantly, she is the only speed horse in Thursday’s field. Not normally a frontrunner, Dixie Mo figures to find herself on an easy lead under jockey Stewart Elliot (a 33% winner this meet), which sets the stage for a winning effort.
#3 Herbs Love (9-2) and #6 Quinn Murphy (3-1) can battle to round out the exacta, but our main play will be a $10 win bet capitalizing on the Midweek Bet Back promotion. We’ll receive a refund if Dixie Mo finishes second.
$10 to win on #1 Dixie Mo
$5 exacta: 1 with 3,6 ($10)
Belmont Park, Race 4: $61,086 Pick 6 carryover
There aren’t too many special rules or requirements governing Belmont Park’s daily Pick 6. The $1 wager is traditional, without a jackpot provision. Construct a winning ticket and you’ll split the daily pool (plus any carryover) with all other winning bettors.
Thursday’s Pick 6 features a carryover of $61,086, and the final pool will easily exceed the six figures.
Planning to put together a ticket? We’ve identified a single and vulnerable favorites to get you started.
Hometown showed promise in two starts last summer, most notably when he finished second in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight at Saratoga, after he carved out the pace.
Hometown returned better than ever in a seven-furlong maiden sprint March 14 at Aqueduct. In his first start for trainer Chad Brown, Hometown tracked the pace and took command to score by 2 1/2 lengths.
On Thursday, Hometown will stretch back out over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont, where Brown has seven wins from 22 starts this spring.
He fits well in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, so if Hometown takes a step forward in his second run of the season, he’ll be tough to beat.
On her best day, Miss Mi Mi is the fastest horse in this six-furlong, $12,500 claiming sprint for fillies and mares. But her last win was for a $10,000 claiming tag at Aqueduct in December, and she hasn’t finished within 3 3/4 lengths of victory in four subsequent starts against starter allowance and starter stakes company.
Miss Mi Mi actually took a big step backward in her most recent effort, when she faded to finish fifth, 11 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
There are reasons to believe Miss Mi Mi can rebound Thursday. She will cut back from one mile to six furlongs, and jockey Irad Ortiz is named to ride. But 9-5 seems like a short price to accept on a mare who needs to turn things around.
Mr. Alec is an obvious threat in this 1 1/4-mile, optional-claiming allowance over the inner turf course. He broke his maiden over this course and distance back in 2019 and has been competing admirably at the allowance level ever since.
Last time out, Mr. Alec came charging hard from behind a slow pace to finish third in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Aqueduct, where he was beaten just a nose.
But Mr. Alec hasn’t run since November, and trainer Christophe Clement wins at just a 14% rate (lower than his overall 20% rate) with horses who return from layoffs of 90 days or more.
Mr. Alec was actually a bit dull in his 2020 debut, before he bounced back to dominate his second start of the season, so there’s a chance Mr. Alec will need to get Thursday’s race under his belt before he returns to his peak.