Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of the day for May 16
Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his picks and plays for Sunday, May 16 at Churchill Downs, Lone Star Park, and Santa Anita, along with thoughts on Santa Anita’s mandatory-payout $548,172 Pick 6 carryover.
- Churchill Downs Bet Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races at Churchill Downs.
- Weekend Pick 4 Winsurance: Get a 25% refund (up to $25) on losing Pick 4 tickets at Churchill Downs.
- Lone Star Million Bet Club: Wager at least $100 (excluding show bets) at Lone Star Park on any day from April 22-May 23 and receive $5 to wager at Lone Star on Lone Star Million day, May 31. Wager at least $100 every day from April 22-May 23 and earn an additional $100 bonus. Wager at least $10,000 at Lone Star from April 22-May 23 and receive an additional $500 bonus.
Picks and Plays
Churchill Downs Race 9: Maiden Special Weight (one mile on turf, 4:55 p.m. ET)
#10 El Kabong (5-2) seems like a perfect fit for this competitive turf test. The son of Noble Mission is bred to thrive on grass and enters off a third-place finish against maiden special weight company at Keeneland, where he was beaten just 1 3/4 lengths after carving out the pace over 1 1/8 miles.
Trainer Rusty Arnold has been hot at Churchill Downs this meet, going 3-for-11 (27%) so far, and jockey Brian Hernandez (2-for-3 when teaming up with Arnold over the last 60 days) is named to ride.
Taking advantage of the Churchill Downs Bet Back offer, we’ll place a $10 win bet on El Kabong. Then we’ll add a small exacta ticket using the Chad Brown-trained first-time starter #12 Tariff War (5-1) for second place
$20 to win on #10 El Kabong
$5 Exacta: 10 with 12
Lone Star Park Race 7: Allowance (one mile, 6:23 p.m. ET)
#5 Quarterback Dak (4-5) has been posting sharp Brisnet Speed ratings on tougher circuits, most recently at Oaklawn Park. On April 25, the son of Alternation finished third in a $50,000 claiming race at Oaklawn, beaten less than a length after rallying wide from behind a modest pace.
The 84 Brisnet Speed rating Quarterback Dak received is clearly the highest figure posted by any horse in Sunday’s field, a noteworthy accomplishment since his six rivals have combined to race 58 times. Actually, none of Quarterback Dak’s rivals have ever surpassed the 77 plateau, a figure the favorite has reached or exceeded in seven of his 10 starts.
In short, if Quarterback Dak brings his A-game, his rivals are running for second place. Building toward our goal of betting $100 for the Lone Star Million Bet Club offer, let’s play Quarterback Dak over recent maiden winner #1 Ghoster (4-1), who looms as the lone speed on paper.
$30 Exacta: 5 with 1
Santa Anita Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (4 1/2 furlongs, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Since 2018, trainer Luis Mendez has compiled an excellent 28-8-7-4 record debuting two-year-olds at Santa Anita during the first half of the season. For the record, that’s a 29% win rate and a 68% in-the-money rate.
These stats suggest #3 Fowler Blue (2-1) will be tough to beat in the Sunday opener. Sire Curlin to Mischief is responsible for 23% winners from first-time starters, and Fowler Blue has shown speed in the mornings, most notably working half a mile from the Santa Anita starting gate in a swift :47 flat.
Let’s bet Fowler Blue to win and play him over the similarly fast-working #5 Aspen Shade (5-2) in a small exacta.
$20 to win on #3 Fowler Blue
$5 Exacta: 3 with 5
Santa Anita, Race 4: $548,172 Rainbow Pick 6 Mandatory Payout
The Rainbow Pick 6 jackpot at Santa Anita has built its way past the half a million mark for Sunday’s card, when the carryover for the 20-cent wager is set for a mandatory dispersal. The final pool is projected to reach somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million, so the opportunity exists to cash a lucrative payoff.
The sequence kicks off in Race 4, a $50,000 maiden claiming race held over one mile on the turf course. Morning line favorites #7 Predictable Tully (7-5) and #6 I Give Up (2-1) have both placed multiple times over this class level, but here’s the problem—they bring 0-for-12 and 0-for-15 lifetime records to the mix. Since they tend to settle for minor awards, I’m not convinced they’re unbeatable at short prices. A lightly-raced rival like #3 Royally Command (5-1) might have more upside after finishing second in her turf debut over this course, class, and distance.
Race 5, a $20,000 maiden claiming race for three-year-olds racing 1 1/16 miles, presents a potential single in the form of #5 Big Well (9-5). Runner-up for a $28,000 tag at Santa Anita last month, the Tim Yakteen trainee has already run well around two turns and boasts some of the best Brisnet Speed ratings in the field. The fact he has tactical speed is another asset, since speed tends to perform well racing one mile at Santa Anita.
Race 6, a one-mile maiden special weight, could be considered a match race between #2 Mr. Impossible (9-5) and #3 American Admiral (2-1). The former hasn’t missed the board in four starts against tough competition, and the latter is a first-time starter from the high-percentage barn of Bob Baffert. But don’t sleep on the chances of #5 Beyond Brilliant (5-2), who has placed twice against maiden special weight company over the Santa Anita turf course. The John Shirreffs trainee has tactical speed and the pedigree to handle the main track, so don’t be surprised if he fires a big shot in his dirt debut.
There are plenty of logical contenders to consider in Race 7, a $40,000 allowance optional claiming race for fillies and mares dashing 6 1/2 furlongs over the turf course. #6 Ellerslie Lace (5-2) is the morning line favorite while shipping in from France, where she placed fifth in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) (G1). But trainer Leonard Powell’s recent record with horses shipping to the U.S. stands at 0-for-11, so it’s possible Ellerslie Lace will need to get a run under her belt before finding her best stride. If this is indeed the case, then #2 Fantail (3-1), #7 Lofty (3-1), and #8 Lucky Peridot (5-1) become the ones to fear.
Race 8 is a seven-furlong, $10,000 claiming event, and the race appears more manageable than most with just seven horses in the entries. #5 Tobacco Road (8-5) is a deserving favorite after using his tactical speed to win a $12,500 claiming race over this distance at Santa Anita two months ago. But pure frontrunner #1 Studly Perfection (3-1) also looks competitive and can put up a good fight if the favorite regresses at all.
The finale is a $50,000 maiden claiming sprint held over six furlongs on the turf course. A full field of 12 has been entered (along with a couple of also-eligibles), and while it’s tempting to hit the “ALL” button, we’ll avoid this scattershot approach and favor #4 Sweet Devil (5-1), #5 Irish Aura (3-1). #7 New Drama (4-1), and #10 Dorita’s Happy (8-1).
20-cent Rainbow Pick 6: 3,6,7 with 5 with 2,3,5 with 2,6,7,8 with 1,5 with 4,5,7,10 ($57.60)