Keeneland Fall Preview

WIN BIG WHEN RACING RETURNS TO KEENELAND IN OCTOBER

Top class racing returns to Kentucky this week as Keeneland's annual fall season gets ready to open for its three-week, 17-race day, boutique meet from Friday, Oct. 6 to Saturday, Oct. 28.  The meet will attract big fields, good horses, and a load of top jockeys and trainers befitting the world epicenter of Thoroughbred horseracing in Lexington, Kentucky.

Since Keeneland's fall meet is only three weeks long and the meet's stakes are front-loaded so they can be Breeders' Cup prep races, the time is now for handicappers to start brushing up on some of the things they need to know to make money at the fall's marquee meet.

The Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships are only about a month away, and Thoroughbred racing's biggest event is fast-approaching on Friday and Saturday, November 3-4. The 2017 Breeders' Cup will be held at Del Mar for the first time and again will consist of 13 races, including four on Friday and nine on Saturday.

Before the Breeders' Cup comes Keeneland, and this meet isn't too shabby either.  Keeneland's 17 stakes races are worth more than $5 million, including six Grade 1 races, are slated for the 17-day Keeneland Fall Meet. The Breeders' Cup meet opens with the prestigious "Fall Stars Weekend" on Oct. 6-8.  In total, Keeneland will host nine Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" stakes, each with automatic qualifying bids into the Breeders' Cup.

Keeneland's signature Fall Stars Weekend alone will offer nine graded stakes worth $3.7 million. Five of those races are Grade 1 events. Opening day on Friday, Oct. 6 will feature the $400,000 Alcibiades (G1), for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, and the Phoenix (G2) for the sprinters at 6 furlongs.

The Saturday, Oct. 7 card includes the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile, the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity (G1) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, the $400,000 First Lady (G1), for fillies and mares, 3 & up at a mile on turf, and the $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (G2), a prep for the Filly & Mare Sprint.  Racing on Oct. 8 will be led by the $500,000 Spinster (G1), for fillies and mares, 3 & up at 1 1/8 miles, and the $250,000 Bourbon Stakes, a prep for the Juvenile Turf.

The ninth Breeders' Cup Challenge race is the Jessamine (G3) Stakes on Oct. 11, which awards the winner a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Keeneland Fall Meet Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Schedule

DateRace:Prep for:Purse:
Oct. 6Alcibiades-G1Juvenile Fillies$400,000
Oct. 6Phoenix Stakes-G3Sprint$250,000
Oct. 7Shadwell Turf Mile-G1Mile$1,000,000
Oct. 7Breeders' Futurity-G1Juvenile$500,000
Oct. 7First Lady- G1Filly & Mare Turf$400,000
Oct. 7TCOA Stakes-G2Filly & Mare Sprint$250,000
Oct. 8Spinster Stakes-G1Distaff$500,000
Oct. 8Bourbon Stakes-G3Juvenile Turf$250,000
Oct. 11Jessamine Stakes-G3Juvenile Fillies Turf$150,000

When looking ahead to the Breeders' Cup, remember that the winners of more than 40 Breeders' Cup races have made their final prep Keeneland's Fall Meet down through the years. Keeneland's most productive preps in that regard, historically, have been in the Thoroughbred Cub of America, Spinster, Shadwell Turf Mile, Alcibiades, and Breeders' Futurity. So pay closest attention to the horses exiting those races.

KEENELAND WINNING TRACK PROFILES

Historically, Keeneland was always known as an inside speed paved highway in terms of handicapping.  That all changed during Keeneland's Polytrack era, but mainly that old good rail has now returned on the main track. The one-post wins at 15% in dirt sprints and at a 17% win rate in dirt routes, including at one mile since those races were added in the fall of 2015 (with a 210-foot run up, those races are actually closer to being 1 mile & 70 yards). Keeneland's "one mile" races are run with a short stretch ending at the sixteenth pole.

As far as running style and posts, horses have their best chances by staying within 2 lengths of the lead at the first call in sprints, and within 4 lengths of the front at the first call in routes. The post positions are mostly fair in sprints, but in routes favor the inside gates, particularly 1-3.

Keeneland Turf Trends

The other main staple of the quality day-to-day racing at Keeneland is the great turf racing, which features big full fields, tons of value, and loads of good overlays.  Usually the most bettable racing taking place at Keeneland is happening on the grass.

One thing that differentiates Keeneland from so many other places is that they routinely run on wet turf courses that are listed as yielding or something else other than firm. Don't overlook these softer turf courses when looking for value, because they are often a source of some of the best longshot payoffs at the meet. Handicappers in these races often make the mistake of paying too much attention to a horse's recent form while ignoring what really matters in many of these cases. What it often boils down to is whether or not the horse can run its best race on yielding or soft turf courses. Remember that certain horses like firm turf while others prefer a little bit of give in the ground. If you can differentiate between the two, you will have a big advantage over the general public in the races run on softer turf courses.

Post positions and horses for the course are very important handicapping factors on the Keeneland grass course, and this factor will play-out all throughout the meet.

In Keeneland turf routes, inside posts are good, but middle posts are just fine as well, all the way on out to post 7.  The far outside posts, however, are not great at most distances on the Keeneland grass.  This is based on a large sample size in turf routes with 220 two-turn grass races run at Keeneland since the fall of 2014, showing various posts 1-7 yielding between 10%-14% win percentages, with the outside posts averaging far worse percentages.  The worst races for outside posts will definitely be at the one-mile distance, and the absolute worst posts for all turf routes are posts 10 and outward. Those posts combined to go 0-for-47 a few years ago and have been only slightly better since then.

Turf Sprints

Keeneland really doesn't card very many turf sprints, just 31 such races since 2014. However, with stats in these races going back to 2006, Keeneland's turf sprints definitely favor two things; 1) middle-to-outside posts, and 2) off-the-pace runners that rally from between 2 lengths and 6 lengths behind with a half-mile to run.

Just like in New York at Saratoga and Belmont, the main angle in Keeneland's turf sprints involves betting against horses from the inside posts.  The rail post wins at only about 3%, and post two wins only about 6%.  Several post positions win at double-digit percentages in these races, incuding posts 8, 9, 10 and 12, so upgrade outside runners in those races, especially if the betting public mistakenly misses out on this disadvantages.

Recapping turf trends at Keeneland: Inside posts are bad in turf sprints, and the far outside posts are bad in grass routes where preference goes to horses from inside and middle posts.

Jockeys and Trainers

At the fall meet in 2016, the Keeneland meet was all about jockeys Julien Leparoux and Florent Geroux who finished in the top two spots in the jockey standings. They were followed by Robby Albarado and Corey Lanerie who also did well. Similar results should be expected to prevail at the 2017 Keeneland Fall Meet.  However, one jockey to key on in particular might be Lanerie based on results from the brief Churchill September meet.  As of Oct. 1, Lanerie was running away with the meet riding title with 25 wins from 94 starters (27%). The next closest winning jockeys were Geroux and Brian Hernandez, each with 10 victories.

The discussion of Keeneland trainers must begin with Mike Maker, who has been winning at giant win percentages at recent major Kentucky meets including Keeneland and Churchill Downs.  There is little value to be found with Maker on the tote board, but nevertheless, his horses are impossible to overlook and must be respected, even at short prices.  This is also the case with Wesley Ward, and with the Todd Pletcher string of horses, mostly allowance and stakes types, which will run at the meet. With Ward, however, be aware that his overall meet statistics include Spring meet numbers, which are much better for Ward than his numbers at Fall meets, when the competition has caught up with this 2-year-olds and turf sprinters that he does so well with at the Spring meet.

Other trainers who can usually be counted on to invade Keeneland with live runners include Bill Mott, Graham Motion, Shug McGaughey, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Christophe Clement, who should be splitting their stock between Keeneland and Belmont during the month of October. This list of trainers tends to excel in turf races and routes. The local circuit of trainers generally tends to excel in sprints and claiming races. The top local barns will compete at every level, including trainers like Ken McPeek, Dale Romans, and Eddie Kenneally.

The multiple-year leading trainer at past recent Keeneland fall meets was Ken McPeek, and he again should be loaded for the 2017 fall racing season with plenty of starters lined-up during the 17-day Keeneland fall meet.  McPeek's weakness at this meet tends to be with maidens, but he should be strong in all other categories.

Mark Casse was very prominent at the 2016 Keeneland fall meet and is expected to vie for the 2017 title. Casse is having a good Churchill September meet with 6 winners from only 19 starters for a big 32% win rate.  McPeek had 7 winners at Churchill from many more starters to tie for the Churchill lead as of Oct. 1 with Brad Cox, who was 7-for-29 for 24%.  Cox does great work in all categories, particularly on the turf.

A good handicapping angle generally at the Keeneland fall meet involves distance cutbacks.  Horses cutting back in distance from a race at a mile or longer last time out into sprints during the Keeneland fall meet are customarily very good bets at this meet.  Particular trainers to watch with this angle include Dallas Stewart, Graham Motion, and Ian Wilkes.

Some of the best fall racing in the land will be held during the 17-day Keeneland meet from Oct. 6 through Oct. 28. I wish you an enjoyable and successful meet.

By Noel Michaels

16
Dec

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