Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of the day for April 7
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Wednesday, April 7.
At Mahoning Valley and Tampa Bay Downs, Keeler is focusing on $10 win bets to take advantage of the TwinSpires Midweek Bet Back promotion. But Keeler is also keen to pursue a $25,195 Super High 5 carryover at Keeneland.
Picks and Plays
Although this field is small, with just half a dozen entries, there’s plenty of speed in the mix. #1 Itzafriendshipshot (3-1), #3 Cattaleya Ronith (7-2), and #5 Ragtime Dolly (4-1) all have the tactical foot to vie for early supremacy, which could produce a fast pace perfect for #6 Empress Alexandra (9-2).
A pure deep closer trained by Jason DaCosta, Empress Alexandra fired off a big effort over this track, distance, and class level on March 23. On a day when speed horses won every race, Empress Alexandra rallied with determination to finish second, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths while coming home ahead of Ragtime Dolly and Itzafriendshipshot.
Considering this was Empress Alexandra’s two-turn debut, the three-year-old filly still has upside for her second start running long. We’ll make Empress Alexandra the focus of our $10 win bet, and we’ll also play her on top of a trifecta emphasizing Ragtime Dolly and #2 Morning Light (5-2) underneath.
$10 to win on #6 Empress Alexandra
$2 Trifecta: 6 with 2,5 with 1,2,3,5 ($12)
In a sprint that doesn’t appear overly stuffed with speed, #4 Highly Explosive (3-1) figures to enjoy a perfect trip. The Candace Huffman trainee has cracked the trifecta in three straight races of Wednesday’s track, distance, and class level while posting competitive Brisnet Speed ratings.
Indeed, Highly Explosive threw down a field-best 77 figure when finishing second as the favorite on March 9. No matter how you slice it, this was a strong effort; the victorious Tivis came right back to win the Southern Park S. at Mahoning Valley, and Highly Explosive pulled 15 lengths clear of the third-place runner.
Since Huffman wins at a 33% rate with horses beaten as the favorite in their previous start, there’s no reason to think Highly Explosive won’t come back with another big effort on Wednesday. We’ll bet her to win and play her on top on a trifecta boxing #1 Mine Alone (7-2), #2 Augmenting Assets (9-2), and #3 Abigail Lee (8-1) underneath.
$10 to win on #4 Highly Explosive
$2 Trifecta: 4 with 1,2,3 with 1,2,3 ($12)
#5 Pugilist (2-1) is the favorite after rallying boldly to finish third over this course, distance, and class level on Feb. 27, beaten by just 1 1/4 lengths. But Pugilist is much more accustomed to running long and has a tendency to settle for the minor awards, finishing second or third in eight of her last 11 starts. Actually, she hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since July 2019.
With these stats in mind, why not support #8 Silver Tunes (6-1) instead? A pure five-furlong specialist, Silver Tunes has plenty of speed and ran a huge race at Tampa on Feb. 27. After dueling for the lead through fast fractions of :20.86 and :43.84, Silver Tunes battled on gamely to finish second, beaten by only a head while finishing 1 1/4 lengths clear of Pugilist.
Silver Tunes wasn’t disgraced when finishing fifth in an allowance optional claiming race for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park last month, and I suspect she’ll be dangerous while returning to Tampa. At 6-1, she’s worth betting to win and playing over Pugilist in a cold exacta.
$10 to win on #8 Silver Tunes
$6 Exacta: 8 with 5
The second week of the Keeneland spring meet kicks off with an enticing $25,195 carryover in the Super Hi 5. The 50-cent, jackpot-style wager is available in every with seven or more betting interests, and constructing a unique winning ticket is necessary if you want to win the jackpot.
The first opportunity to play the Super Hi 5 comes in Race 1, a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for two-year-olds. It might seem impossible to bet a logical Super Hi 5 in a race featuring 10 unraced juveniles, but using trainer statistics, we can stack the odds in our favor.
Most folks will favor #4 Kaufymaker (9-5), who hails from the barn of ultra-hot trainer Wesley Ward. Ward has compiled a phenomenal 9-4-3-1 (44%) record to start the Keeneland spring meet, and historically, he’s excelled saddling two-year-olds in these spring sprints at Keeneland. Since 2016, Ward has compiled a 55-26-11-3 (47%) record in such races.
But a 47% win rate also means Ward loses 53% of the time, so betting Kaufymaker on top at a short price isn’t the most appealing strategy—especially for a jackpot-style wager in which constructing a unique winning ticket is the goal. Ward’s first two juvenile starters at this Keeneland meet, including Dream Fly, a distant runner-up in the first race of the meet.
Comparing the work tabs compiled by Kaufymaker and Dream Fly, it appears they were workmates in their last two breezes, so the fact Dream Fly got the nod for opening-day action—while Kaufymaker has waited until Wednesday to debut—hints (to me at least) that Dream Fly might be the better of the pair.
As a result, I’m tempted to play against Kaufymaker for the top spot. Instead, I’ll key her for second place, since 38% of Ward’s beaten runners in races like these manage to hang on for a spot in the exacta.
For the top spot (and for underneath slots), I’ll spread deep with #2 Social Mandate (9-2), #6 Vidal (3-1), and #7 Jack the Lad (9-2). The first-mentioned colt hails from the barn of John Hancock, who has seen 14 of his last 27 starters in Keeneland’s early-season juvenile sprints finish in the money. Meanwhile, Vidal and Jack the Lad have posted quick workouts for John Ennis, who won the first juvenile race of this Keeneland spring meet with the speedy Bohemian Frost.
Here’s how we’ll bet the Super Hi 5:
50-cent Super Hi 5: 2,6,7 with 4 with 2,6,7 with 2,6,7 with 1,3,5,8 ($12)
50-cent Super Hi 5: 2,6,7 with 4 with 2,6,7 with 1,3,5,8 with 2,6,7 ($12)