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Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of the day for April 24

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 24th, 2021

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Saturday, April 24 at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, and Pimlico—coincidentally, the homes of the three Triple Crown races.

In addition, Keeler is sharing thoughts on a $129,454 Pick 5 carryover at Fonner Park.

Picks and Plays

Belmont Park Race 8: Elusive Quality S. (seven furlongs on turf, 4:47 p.m. ET)

I’m not quite sure why #5 Olympic Runner (12-1) misfired in the 1 1/8-mile Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds last month. The son of Gio Ponti was uncomfortable in the early going, fighting his jockey, and ultimately trailed across the finish line.

Maybe Olympic Runner struggled over the damp course. Or perhaps he fell too far behind a slow pace, prompting his aggressiveness. In any case, I’m willing to draw a line through this effort and assume Olympic Runner will rebound at Belmont. His previous form was solid, highlighted by a neck defeat in the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Turf (G3) at Gulfstream Park. Olympic Runner surely could have won the Canadian Turf, but he endured a wider trip than the ground-saving winner and came up just short at the wire.

We won’t get too creative with our wagers. Instead, we’ll place speculative win and place bets on Olympic Runner, hoping to see him finish in the exacta at a big price.

$10 to win on #5 Olympic Runner
$15 to place on #5 Olympic Runner
Total: $25

Churchill Downs Race 8: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/4 miles, 9:39 p.m. ET)

There is essentially no speed entered in this maiden event for fillies and mares racing the Kentucky Derby distance. The only entrant who has ever shown an interest in setting the pace is #6 Zuri (7-2), who led for the opening few furlongs of a 1 1/8-mile turf maiden race at Keeneland before weakening to finish last.

But could this tactical advantage be all Zuri needs to reach the winner’s circle? She had previously shown a bit of promise in her debut on dirt, finishing fourth in a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. As a daughter of Belmont (G1) winner Union Rags out of the Bernardini mare Zayanna, Zuri is bred to relish running long on the main track. Her half-sister Point of Honor has placed five times at the Grade 1 level, including a second in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1).

If Zuri shakes loose on an uncontested lead while returning to dirt, she can steal the show from #5 Queen Bourbon (6-5) and #3 Honor Hop (5-1).

$15 to win on #6 Zuri
$5 Exacta: 6 with 3,5 ($10)
$2.50 Trifecta: 6 with 3,5 with 3,5 ($5)
Total: $30

Pimlico Race 6: Dahlia S. (1 1/16 miles on turf, 3:25 p.m. ET)

#6 Crystal Cliffs (6-5) ran a huge race in the June 27 Regret (G3) at Churchill Downs last year. Racing 1 1/8 miles over the turf course, Crystal Cliffs saved ground throughout, but had to wait in traffic and squeeze through tight quarters down the lane. Despite these obstacles, she was only beaten a head by Harvey’s Lil Goil, who went on to win a Grade 1 and place at the Breeders’ Cup.

Crystal Cliffs hasn’t run since, but she’s been training forwardly for her return, posting eight workouts since the end of February. Trainer Graham Motion does well with horses returning from layoffs, and Sheldon Russell—one of the leading jockeys on the Maryland circuit—is named to ride.

Let’s bet Crystal Cliffs on top of trifectas keying #9 Vigilantes Way (8-5) underneath:

$2.50 Trifecta: 6 with 9 with 1,3,4,10,11 ($15)
$2.50 Trifecta: 6 with 1,3,4,10,11 with 9 ($15)
Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Fonner Park Race 6: $129,454 Pick 5 Jackpot

With one week remaining in the Fonner Park meet, the Dinsdale Automotive Pick 5 jackpot has swelled to $129,454. Assuming no one constructs a unique winning ticket prior to closing day (May 1), we’ll have an enticing mandatory payout to look forward to.

The again, why wait until closing day to play the Pick 5? Assemble the right combination of winning longshots, and you can claim the whole five-figure jackpot for yourself.

Saturday seems like as good a day as any to seek a unique winning ticket. The sequence for the 50-cent wager contains 49 horses (almost 10 per race), which equates to 90,000 possible outcomes. Yet many tickets figure to rely on a potentially vulnerable favorite in the Gus Fonner S., the day’s feature event.

With this intriguing possibility in mind, let’s highlight a couple of runners of note in the Pick 5 sequence.

Best single: Race 7, #1 Alex of Ice (5-2)

The par winning Brisnet Speed rating for this $5,000 claiming class level and six-furlong distance is 78, a figure Alex of Ice has exceeded on many occasions. In fact, the five-year-old gelding has cracked the 80 plateau in both of his starts at Fonner this season, posting an 80 when second in a six-furlong allowance sprint, and an 86 when winning a 6 1/2 furlong allowance race with a sharp late rally.

Trainer Kelli Martinez and jockey Armando Martinez have been hot at Fonner, and they’ve teamed up to win at a 31% rate over the last two months. Any way you slice it, Alex of Ice looks tough to beat.

Vulnerable favorite: Race 9, #9 Sleepy Eyes Todd (1-1)

I’ll be the first to admit Sleepy Eyes Todd is a class standout in the Gus Fonner S. The accomplished five-year-old dominated this race by 6 1/2 lengths last year and subsequently proved his worth against graded stakes company with victories in the Charles Town Classic (G2) and Mr. Prospector (G3). Surely he’ll win for fun while dropping back down into listed stakes company?

Perhaps, but it’s worth noting Sleepy Eyes Todd is returning from an extended trip to the Middle East, where he finished fifth in the Saudi Cup and 10th in the Dubai World Cup (G1). He hasn’t posted a timed workout since returning home, so I don’t think Sleepy Eyes Todd is guaranteed to produce his A-game on Saturday. If we can beat him in the Pick 5, we’ll have a much better chance at taking down the jackpot.

Good luck!

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