Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays for April 2
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Friday, April 2, which is opening day of the Keeneland spring meet. Three stakes are on the agenda, and Keeler has analyzed them all.
Picks and Plays
Keeneland, Race 7: Palisades Turf Sprint S. (5 1/2 furlongs, 4:24 p.m. ET)
#4 Blameworthy (4-1) has never run on turf, and the surface switch is a question mark. But the bay colt has flashed terrific speed in dirt sprints at Fair Grounds this winter, where he repeatedly knocked heads with tough competition.
In a six-furlong allowance March 11, Blameworthy dueled for the lead through blazing splits of :21.27 and :44.35, before he edged away to beat heavy favorite He’s in Charge by two lengths.
Blameworthy brings competitive Brisnet Speed ratings to the equation and picked up jockey Florent Geroux, so there is plenty to like about his chances. It’s worth noting Blameworthy’s sire — Blame — has sired a bevy of high-class turf performers, including Prix de Diane (G1) winner Senga, Natalma (G1) heroine Abscond, and Hollywood Derby (G1) runner-up March. There’s a chance Blameworthy will relish the switch to the lawn at Keeneland.
With this possibility in mind, we’ll bet Blameworthy to win and leave it at that.
$25 to win on #4 Blameworthy
Keeneland, Race 8: Beaumont (G3, seven furlongs, 4:57 p.m. ET)
There is plenty of speed in this seven-furlong Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep race, with the flashy Gulfstream debut winner #2 Slumber Party (2-1) seemingly destined to knock heads early with Sorrento (G2) winner #1 My Girl Red (5-1), Any Limit S. winner #3 Farsighted (4-1), and the exciting Turfway maiden winner #7 Twenty Carat (5-2).
So why not think outside the box, with the stretch-running #5 Lady Traveler (15-1)?
If you draw a line through Lady Traveler’s disappointing effort in a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance last month, her form looks solid. Two starts back, the daughter of Quality Road rallied to finish second in the seven-furlong Forward Gal (G3), ahead of next-out Davona Dale (G2) winner Wholebodemeister. Lady Traveler also broke her maiden sprinting six furlongs at Churchill Downs in the fall.
If Lady Traveler encounters a fast pace on the cut back in distance, she can outrun expectations at a big price. We’ll bet her to win and key her in the exacta, with Slumber Party and Twenty Carat.
$8 to win on #5 Lady Traveler
$2 exacta: 5 with 2,7 ($4)
$4 exacta: 2,7 with 5 ($8)
Keeneland, Race 9: Transylvania (G3, 1 1/16 miles on turf, 5:30 p.m. ET)
#4 Fire At Will (9-5) defeated a deep, international field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in the fall, when he drew off to win by three lengths in a powerful performance. The 95 Brisnet Speed rating he posted easily tops the Transylvania field.
Fire At Will disappointed when he tried dirt in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last month, when he faded to finish eighth, but a return to turf can trigger a rebound for the beautifully bred son of Declaration of War.
We won’t get creative. We’ll just bet Fire At Will on top of #1 Scarlett Sky (2-1), #2 Palazzi (6-1), and #6 Earls Rock (2-1) in the trifecta.
$10 trifecta: 4 with 1 with 2,6 ($20)
$10 trifecta: 4 with 6 with 1
Santa Anita, Race 3: Rainbow Pick 6
Friday’s Rainbow 6 kicks off in Race 3 (post time 5:13 p.m. ET) and appears frontloaded with competitive races. Race 4, a $32,000 claiming sprint on the turf course, looks particularly tough, with nine runners in the mix.
Fortunately, the back half of the Rainbow 6 is more manageable. Race 7, for example, looks like a two-horse battle, between #2 Crystal Ball (9-5) and #5 Pharoah’s Heart (6-5). The former is the more accomplished of the duo, as she finished second by a head in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga over the summer.
But the Bob Baffert-trained filly hasn’t run since August, so if Crystal Ball needs a race off the layoff, Pharoah’s Heart can steal the show. The daughter of American Pharoah has thrown down sharp Brisnet Speed ratings in two sprint starts this winter and figures to be dangerous on the stretch out to a mile.
Race 8, the afternoon finale, appears even more straightforward.
Nine horses are entered in the $50,000 maiden claiming turf sprint, but #5 Nerves of Steel (9-5) looms as a logical single. After three unremarkable starts on dirt in New York, the son of Speightstown took a big step forward when he switched to grass at Santa Anita. In his first start for trainer Peter Miller (who excels with turf sprinters), Nerves of Steel rallied boldly to finish second by a nose over Friday’s distance and class level.
This effort produced a sharp 84 Brisnet Speed rating, and Nerves of Steel has retained the services of leading jockey Flavien Prat. If Nerves of Steel repeats his last effort, his rivals are running for second place.
Here’s how we’ll play the Rainbow 6.
20-cent Rainbow 6: 1,5,7 with 2,5,6,7,8,10, with 1,4,6, with 6,7 with 2,5 with 5 ($43.20)