Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of Nov. 23, 2023

November 22nd, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares Thanksgiving Day picks and plays for Thursday, Nov. 23 at Del Mar, Fair Grounds, and Churchill Downs, including horses to single in five-figure carryovers at Del Mar and Fair Grounds.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Churchill Downs $2,000 Late Pick 5 Hit It & Split It: Hit the Late Pick 5 at Churchill Downs on any racing day from Nov. 1 through Nov. 26 to win your share of a $2,000 daily jackpot.
  • 10x Points at Churchill Downs: Receive 10x reward points on all wagers at Churchill Downs from Nov. 8 through Nov. 26.
  • Fraser Downs 15% Win Bonus: Earn a 15% bonus (up to $25 per day) on winning win wagers at Fraser Downs every Thursday and Friday from Nov. 16 through Dec. 15.

Picks and Plays

Del Mar: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs on turf, 2:00 p.m. ET)

#7 E J Won the Cup (5-2) might be 0-for-4, but he’s been defeated by quality horses, including Bob Hope (G3) winner Nysos and Speakeasy S. hero Slider. Along the way, he’s put together a decent series of Brisnet Speed ratings.

Now E J Won the Cup is switching from dirt to turf, a potentially positive change since sire Omaha Beach is responsible for 17% winners from first-time turf starters. We’ll bet E J Won the Cup to win and hope his 5-2 morning line odds hold up.


  • #7 E J Won the Cup (5-2)
  • #2 Eight Clap (4-1)
  • #1 Daddy Justify (3-1)


  • $30 to win on #7 E J Won the Cup

Fair Grounds: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/16 miles, 3:06 p.m. ET)

#1 Next Level (3-1) has spent three of his four starts competing against stakes company, even finishing third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). His lone start in a maiden special weight yielded a runner-up finish in a six-furlong contest at Del Mar during the summer.

Next Level is bred to thrive running long and is adding blinkers and Lasix off a troubled seventh-place finish in the American Pharoah (G1). Returning to the maiden ranks should be sufficient to send Next Level to the winner’s circle.


  • #1 Next Level (3-1)
  • #2 Night Out (7-2)
  • #6 Bayou Magic (9-2)


  • $30 to win on #1 Next Level

Churchill Downs: Race 12: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 4:43 p.m. ET)

High-percentage trainer Philip Bauer wins at a 24% rate with first-time starters and has gone 5-for-13 (38%) debuting juveniles at Churchill Downs since 2019. This bodes well for Bauer’s unraced two-year-old #7 Legadema (8-1), who has put together an encouraging work tab in preparation for her debut.

Legadema is a daughter of Arrogate, who sires a respectable 13% winners from first-time starters, and jockey Martin Garcia (a 36% winner teaming up with Bauer over the last two months) is named to ride. At 8-1, Legadema is well worth betting to win.


  • #7 Legadema (8-1)
  • #11 Tale of La Bee (9-2)
  • #12 Lady Moscato (7-2)


  • $30 to win on #7 Legadema

Carryover Watch

Del Mar: Race 3: $94,601 Pick 6 carryover (3:00 p.m. ET)

Del Mar is celebrating Thanksgiving with an enticing $94,601 non-jackpot carryover in the $1 Pick 6. Win a share, and you’ll likely pay for Thanksgiving dinner many times over.

The Pick 6 gets underway in Race 3, a $50,000 starter allowance for fillies and mares sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt. Those conditions should be perfect for morning line favorite #4 House of Magic (6-5). The three-year-old filly has been competing on turf and synthetic as of late, but three starts back she tackled a $50,000 starter allowance sprinting six furlongs over the Del Mar dirt and carved out the pace to finish second by half a length.

House of Magic brings a strong series of Brisnet Speed ratings to the table and should be tough to catch while returning to dirt under hot jockey Juan Hernandez, a 26% winner this meet. We’re willing to single House of Magic to start the Pick 6.

Fair Grounds: Race 6: $41,096 Pick 5 carryover (3:36 p.m. ET)

Fair Grounds is getting in on the five-figure, non-jackpot carryover action with a $41,096 prize pool up for grabs in the Thanksgiving Day 50-cent Late Pick 5.

Looking for a single to build tickets around? Check out Race 6, the opening leg of the sequence. It’s an allowance for fillies and mares racing about 1 1/16 miles on turf, and morning line favorite #3 Hay Stack (3-1) appears to have an advantage after finishing second in each of her last two starts against allowance company at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

Hay Stack is versatile in terms of running style and brings strong Brisnet Speed ratings to the table. Some might hesitate to single her since she finished behind #9 Elle Est Forte (5-1) in a Churchill Downs allowance during the spring, but that contest took place over 1 3/8 miles, a distance possibly too far for Hay Stack while suitable for Elle Est Forte. Hay Stack can turn the tables over Thursday’s shorter trip at Fair Grounds, so we’ll take a stand with Hay Stack to start the Pick 6.

Good luck!