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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 5:59 PM

Jim Hurley
Wednesday, April 3

The Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park just came to a close. While there will still be racing in South Florida, this is the time of year when racing begins its northern migration.

Soon Aqueduct will wind down and Belmont will open on April 4th.  But it is a migration that takes its time and along the way the marquee barns, big name trainers, high profile riders and top class horses make a stop for Keeneland’s 16 day meet which begins this Thursday, April 4 and runs through Friday, April 26 (racing every day but Monday and Tuesday and Easter Sunday, April 21.)

This short spring meet has always been a bettor’s dream…and it has always been a meet I look forward to each year.

Not only do we have the usual collection of competitive allowance and claiming races, but many outfits hold back their late developing 3-year olds to showcase in Maiden Special Weight races and the babies are introduced as 2-year old maidens begin to make appearances.

And of course the incredible roster of 18 Stakes races over the 16 day run, 15 of which are graded races…beginning with 9 of them over the course of the opening 4 days, including of course the Key Derby Prep Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday (4/6.)

Thurs. 4/4 – Palisades Turf Sprint – (3 YO) 5.5 Furlongs Turf
Fri. 4/5 – Transylvania Stakes – (3 YO) 8.5 Furlongs Turf
Sat. 4/6 – Blue Grass Stakes (G2) – (3 YO) 9 Furlongs Dirt
Sat. 4/6 – Ashland Stakes – (G1) – (3 YO Fillies) 8.5 Furlongs Dirt
Sat. 4/6 – Madison Stakes – (G1) – (4 YO-Up F&M) 7 Furlongs Dirt
Sat. 4/6 – Commonwealth Stakes – (G3) – (4 YO-Up) 7 Furlongs Dirt
Sat. 4/6 – Shakertown Stakes – (G2) – (3 YO-Up) – 5.5 Furlongs Turf
Sun. 4/7 – Beaumont Stakes – (G3) – (3 YO Fillies) – 7.5 Furlongs Dirt
Sun. 4/7 – Appalachian Stakes – (G2) – (3 YO Fillies) 8 Furlongs Turf

This year the spring meet begins a day early. To my mind that means even more opportunity to cash in on the kind of overlooked runners that traditionally permeate this meet.

For instance, during the opening 3 day weekend last spring there was a total of 30 races which produced 10 winning favorites. That 30% win ratio is well below the national average of 36.5%. But even at 30% the meet is much more a value bettors’ paradise as there were only 4 odds-on winning favorites.

Obviously, with horses shipping in from everywhere, running off layoffs, maiking their first career starts. You can understand not only why there is value to be found, but how vital it is to KNOW WHAT FORM THESE “SHIPPERS” (and every horse to run during this meet is a shipper) bring to the table as they compete with each other.

Let me give you one example of what a race bettor contends with. During last year’s spring meet one or more winners came from the following.

Recent winning shippers last raced at Delta Downs, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Hawthorne, Mahoning Valley, Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Turfway Park.

In addition there were layoff horses that last ran in 2017 at Belmont, Churchill Downs, Del mar and the Keeneland Fall Meet. Add to that 5 first time starters and you get the idea. You need to know your stuff.

That tells you just how spread out this meet is. Then add in the competition among the trainers and among the jockeys, both big name and under-the-radar accomplished participators and it all gets dicer and the rewards better.

Just look at the jockeys. The top 4 in number of wins were Florent Geroux (20), Jose Ortiz (18), Joel Rosario and Corey Lanerie (15 each.) Yet savvy bettors and handicappers, including yours truly, were on too newcomer Adam Beschizza, who won 11 races from 52 mounts (21%) and who rode exactly 3 favorites from those 51 mounts and averaged a winning mutuel of $15.75. That means for every $2 you bet on the “outsider” you took home $3.40.

So among other questions…who will be this year’s Adam Beschizza?

Who will be the unknown trainer who only saddles a few horses but blows up the tote? Which venue will ship the most winners here? Will Wesley ward once again dominate the 2-year old scene or is there another trainer further along than usual with early juvenile runners?

I’ve answered these questions year in and year out…and my Network of handicapping experts will aid me in doing the same again in 2019. It all begins Thursday.

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(PARTING NOTE ON THE FLORIDA DERBY AND DERBY PREPS)

Last Saturday I tabbed MAXIMUM SECURITY (On Top) to win the Florida Derby at $11.60. I knew that I was flying in the face of tradition by playing a three-year old that had never been further than 7 furlongs. But if there was ever a year to play “outside the box” during these derby Preps, this is the year.

I thought that the Derby Preps had already been turned upside down when, heading into the Florida Derby four straight odds-on favorites had been defeated.

Of course, there is time for the likes of Improbable, Game Winner, et al to redeem themselves.

But then came the Florida Derby and two runners that had never been beyond 7 furlongs ran one-two. I was curious so I went back to the last 20 Florida Derby winners and runners-up.

Only QUALITY ROAD in 2009 who WON the Fountain of Youth prior to the Florida Derby (the only year that the FOY was run at a mile instead of the usual mile and a sixteenth) plus VALUE PLUS (second in 2004) and SHARP HUMOR (second in 2006) had not run at least once at a mile and a sixteenth or longer heading into the Florida Derby.

So far an interesting group of Derby Preps. And this Saturday will be no different as the BIGGEST PREP SATURDAY of the Year sends hopefuls forward in three Grade 1 tests…the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.

Make sure to check back on Friday as I preview those races.  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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