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Staff Picks: The Giant's Causeway at Keeneland

If you've read this site for any discernible length of time you are undoubtedly aware of my supreme inability to pick a winner in a turf sprint. With the exception of the 6 1/2 furlong races on the downhill course at Santa Anita, I generally have no earthly clue. As a result, I chose Saturday's Giant's Causeway, a five furlong turf sprint at Keeneland for this week's Staff Picks. Perhaps they can point me in the right direction.

Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for the Giant's Causeway.

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Speedacious M. Mena W. Calhoun 5/1
2 Wild About Marie R. Albarado J. Thornbury 6/1
3 Extravaganza J. Graham M. Stidham 12/1
4 Well Deserved J. Leparoux S. Asmussen 8/1
5 Classy Zip J. Castellano A. Dutrow 5/1
6 Inspired J. Velazquez A. Iwinski 3/1
7 Smartys Emperoress J. Alvarado E. Reed 20/1
8 Indulgence G. Gomez M. Wolfson 10/1
9 Honey Chile S. Sellers W. Catalano 15/1
10 Grand Illumination S. Bridgmohan S. Margollis 30/1
11 Fortune Play M. Pedroza J. Booker, Jr. 20/
12 Flash Mash B. Hernandez M. Stidham 6/1
13 AE I Knot G. Saez R. Kohnhorst 30/1

Below is JP Fanshawe's take on this turf sprint. JP, I'm counting on you to pick me out a winner!


Matt made an interesting choice with this week's edition of the Staff Picks. There might not be a more difficult kind of race to handicap, at least in my opinion, than the turf sprint. Most handicappers would agree, that turf routes tend to favor horses with good late kicks, be they front-runners who can fend off late challengers, or closers who pass tired rivals in the shadow of the wire. In turf routes, I tend to favor the best closers, but the turf sprint presents a difficulty in that even races that are loaded with speed ballers, like the Giant's Causeway here, might not allow for enough of a stretch of ground to get up for the win. Let's take a look:

1-Speedacious: What I Like: Mare is well-represented in my numbers: 2nd in BRIS speed figure average, tops in earnings per start, 5th in early and middle pace, and 2nd in late pace. She comes in off of four straight wins, for trainer Calhoun who hits at 24 percent when shipping and 22 percent in non-graded stakes. Jockey Mena is 26 percent when riding for Calhoun. Mare has twice posted 100 speed figures. Horse won with a hot pace at this distance, rolling from 3rd to 1st in the SatinNLace last June. What Worries Me: Only one work, but a good one. She is o-for-1 at the distance, and hasn't hit the board in either of her two turf races.

2- Wild About Marie: What I Like: She has won at this level, at this track. Third in earnings per start. One of five horses withn 2.5 points of one another in BRIS Prime Power. She holds the highest speed figure at the distance and is the only other horse besides the 1 to twice post a BRIS speed fig of 100. Ran second to the 1 in the SatinNLace, and has won or placed second every time she has seen a race with a pace above par at this distance. What Worries Me: She comes in off of a 3-month layoff and two previous efforts when she had been off two months resulted in 6th and 7th place finishes, respectively. Works aren't glamorous. Trainer Thornbury is just 6 percent in non-graded stakes and when returning a horse 90+ days away.

3-Extravagana: What I Like: Horse steps up for a stakes for the first time since a dismal 11th beaten 21 her second time out. Working very well, with five works since mid-March, all of them rated as sharp. Fourth in earnings per start. Trainer Stidham's numbers are solid: 21 percent off a freshening, 19 percent shipping in, and 25 percent in non-graded stakes. What Worries Me: Has one third in three tries in races above par. Lacks stakes experience and may be in over her head with this group.

4-Well Deserved: What I Like: Stepped down last out to win an allowance race on a minor circuit. May have gained confidence. Leparoux aboard, and we are talking Leparoux at Keeneland, so that ought to mean something. Has a win over this track, and it came at this distance and with a pace six points above par. Trainer Asmussen is 22 percent 46-90 away, and shipping. What Worries Me: Has only hit the board once in four stakes tries this year. Works are mostly middling. Nowhere in my numbers.

5-Classy Zip: What I Like: Trainer Anthony Dutrow's numbers are great: 28 percent 46-90 away, 28 percent in non-graded stakes, and 27 percent in turf starts. Fifth in SFA, and 4th-best closer in the field. Last four speed figures show an upward trend that my cycle to a high here, given the freshening the wel-spaced works capped by a recent bullet. Jockey Castellano is 50 percent winning, and 90 percent in the money when teaming with Dutrow. Hot paces in sprints have helped mare zip to wins in three races, and shows in two others. What Worries Me: Will need speed to materialize to win, as this horse is rarely on the front end in her last five races.

6-Inspired: What I Like: Mare boasts best speed figure on turf, and comes in off three straight wins, the last being a romp in the Happy Ticket. She is tops in SFA, early and middle pace, and trainer Iwinski is 26 percent in non-graded stakes. She gets Velazquez back, who has won twice and finished 4th beaten 2 for trainer last three times aboard. Velazquez is winning 28 percent of his mounts. What Worries Me: She clearly has a propensity for running on the front, and can win from there as evidenced, by last three, but has she's never had a contested lead at the first call in any of those races. You'd think she would improve going to dirt-to-turf, but trainer is just 6 percent winning with that angle. Only one work, and it was average. No starts over the track.

7-Smartys Emperoress: What I Like: Race shape may suit her, as she came from 7th to win two races back and earned a career-high BRIS speed figure in the process. She's 4-of-6 in the money at the distance. One sharp work since her last out. Third best closer in the field. What Worries Me: Trainer numbers: Reed is 15 percent shipping in, which is average, but just 8 percent in non-graded stakes, and a dismal 3 percent in 92 tries going dirt-to-turf.

8-Indulgence: What I Like: Horse is 4th in SFA, and tops in late pace. She has shown a propensity for closing against speed dueling horses, improving position in every race she's been in that exceeded both first and second call pars. Chief among those efforts is that 54000 allowance at Keeneland at this distance, where she saw 21 and 2, and 44 and 4 fractions and then went 10th, 13 back to 1st with Gomez aboard. Gomez has her here again. Trainer Wolfson is 23 percent off a freshening, and 22 percent in non-graded stakes. She is 4-of-6 win and place at the distance and on turf, and has that win on this strip. Nice works pattern. Having once walked the turf course at Tampa and felt how tiring it is, I have henceforward believed that turf horses coming in from Florida to run on Kentucky or New York turf have some stamina advantage. What Worries Me: If the need-the-lead types hold back for fear of a duel, and she doesn't see hot fractions, I don't think she wins. Saw the 6 in her last and was 4th beaten 3 1/2. Works aren't very fast.

9-Honey Chile: What I Like: The only other horse in the field besides the 1 and 2 to run a triple-digit BRIS speed figure (however numbers have declined every race since that one). Fifth in dollars. Third in early pace, and 5th in middle. Interesting that she clearly didn't care for Poly surface two weeks ago and now turns up here for a shot on the grass. Trainer Catalano is 19 percent with that angle. What Worries Me: The aforementioned declining speed figs, failure to win in two tries on turf, and at distance, only one work and it was average. I am most bothered by Leparoux deserting this one for the 4. Doesn't seem like a win probability if any kind of duel happens with the 6.

10-Grand Illumination: What I Like: Trainer Margolis is 24 percent in non-graded stakes, and 22 percent when shipping in. When he teams with jockey Bridgmohan, he wins 31 percent of the time and hits the board 75 percent of the time. What Worries Me: Quite a bit. Horse steps up to a stakes four straight optional claimers. She has never run within seven of the par, and kind of begs the question: why is she here? Especially given the fact she has never run on grass, and Margolis is just 9 percent with 1st on grass horses. Her three wins all involved races that were at least 6 points below par at the second call, and she doesn't figure to see any 46 and 2 halfs like she did in a couple of those. Nowhere in my numbers.

11-Fortune Play: What I Like: Trainer Booker has won two of his five non-graded stakes this year, and is 22 percent with horses 90+ days away. She dueled in 50k stakes at Turfway two back and prevailed by a head. Come in off five decent works, including a blowout on March 27th. She has run to the par several times, but not within her last six races. Not so long ago she ran in the G3 Gardenia at Ellis. 4th in early and 3rd in middle pace. What Worries Me: She has just one start over the turf, although she did come in second in that race. No starts at Keeneland. Jockey Pedroza has won just 7 percent of his mounts at Keeneland.

12-Flash Mash: What I Like: Trainer Stidham's second entry in this race seems to have a better shot. Speed figure average in last three is just two points under par, and good enough for 3rd overall in this field. Second in early and middle pace, and 5th in late. Stidham is 25 percent in non-graded stakes. In last three races with above-par first and second calls, she has third, first, and second, so a :44 half doesn't spell doom. She is 4-for-4 hitting the board on turf and at the distance. What Worries Me: Stidham is 16 percent when 90+ days away, although works suggest horse is rounding into form and may be fit and ready. Jockey Hernandez is winning just 5 percent of his mounts at Keeneland.

13-I Knot: What I Like: Trainer Kornhorst boasts some solid numbers: 33 percent in non-graded stakes, 28 percent 46-90 days away, and 26 percent for the whole year. She may improve at this shorter distance. What Worries Me: Highest speed figures have come on minor circuits, although she did run a respectable second in a G2 at Keeneland last Fall. Four works lead her in, but she tries grass here for the first time, an angle at which Kornhorst wins 14 percent of the time. Jockey Saez is struggling at Keeneland, winning just 6 percent of his mounts.

Three "E" horses in a large field usually leads to some kind of duel. Here we have the 6, the 9, and possibly the 13 gunning for the lead, and can possibly add a couple more stalkers looking to go fast early in the 3 and the 10. If the race goes :21 and :44, I am going out on a limb and keying the 8. If the race is pedestrian, I think the 6 leads at every call and wins.

Top Selection: 8-Indulgence Alternates: 1-Speedacious, 5-Classy Zip Scared Of: 6-Inspired Wouldn't Be Shocked By: 2-Wild About Marie, 12-Flash Mash

Tough Race! Good Luck!!