Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of Nov. 24, 2023

November 24th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, Nov. 24 at Aqueduct and Churchill Downs, including tickets for Churchill’s $2,510 Super High 5 carryover.

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.
  • Golden Gate Fields Friday $2,000 Late Pick 5 Hit It & Split It: Hit the Late Pick 5 at Golden Gate Fields on any Friday from Nov. 10 through Nov. 24 to win your share of a $2,000 weekly jackpot.
  • 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

Aqueduct: Race 3: Fall Highweight H. (six furlongs, 1:18 p.m. ET)

#4 Durante (9-5) has won five of his last six starts by daylight margins, including the six-furlong Bold Ruler (G3) at Aqueduct last month. The red-hot gelding has pacesetting speed and brings strong Brisnet Speed ratings to the Fall Highweight, so he’s the runner to beat even while toting top weight of 134 pounds.

Let’s single Durante to start a double wager.


  • #4 Durante (9-5)
  • #5 Win for Gold (4-1)
  • #3 Cowan (15-1)


  • $10 Double: 4 with 3,7 ($20)

Aqueduct: Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (one mile, 1:46 p.m. ET)

Trainers Chad Brown and Christophe Clement have enjoyed success in recent years debuting juveniles in dirt routes at Aqueduct. Therefore, we’ll favor their unraced two-year-olds #7 Fluff the Pillow (6-1) and #3 Otello (9-2) in this one-mile maiden special weight.

Brown trains Fluff the Pillow, a son of Malibu Moon who enters off a lengthy string of half-mile workouts. Jockey Manny Franco (a 28% winner teaming up with Brown over the last two months) is named to ride.

Otello, the Clement trainee, is a stoutly bred son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of four-time graded stakes winner Isabella Sings. He’s turned in half a dozen five-furlong workouts since the beginning of September and should be fit to debut over one mile.

Let’s use Fluff the Pillow and Otello equally in our double wager. And since they’re solid prices on the morning line, we’ll play them both to win for good measure.


  • #7 Fluff the Pillow (6-1)
  • #3 Otello (9-2)
  • #2 Bold Ambition (8-1)


  • $10 to win on #7 Fluff the Pillow
  • $10 to win on #3 Otello
    Total: $20

Churchill Downs: Race 11: Clark (G2, 1 1/8 miles, 5:48 p.m. ET)

#2 First Mission (3-1) has gone 3-for-3 since stretching out around two turns and counted future Woody Stephens (G1) winner Arabian Lion and Travers (G1) runner-up Disarm among his beaten rivals when winning the Lexington (G3) during the spring.

First Mission recently returned from an injury-induced layoff to rally through traffic and win a slow-paced $80,000 allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs. Sharp workouts since then suggest this talented three-year-old can improve in his second start back for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox.

We’ll place a large win bet on First Mission, then play him over the improving #4 Gasoline (5-1) in an exacta.


  • #2 First Mission (3-1)
  • #4 Gasoline (5-1)
  • #1 Straight Arrow (8-1)


  • $30 to win on #2 First Mission
  • $5 Exacta: 2 with 4
    Total: $35

Carryover Watch

Churchill Downs: Race 1: $2,510 Super High 5 carryover (1:00 p.m. ET)

From a sporting perspective, the highlight of Friday’s card at Churchill Downs is the Clark. But bettors will be just as excited by the $2,510 Super High 5 carryover up for grabs in the opener.

Race 1 is a $30,000 maiden claimer for two-year-old fillies racing 1 1/16 miles on dirt. With eight entries, there are 6,720 possible Super High 5 outcomes, not an unmanageable number. The tricky part is splitting the eight fillies, because only one has ever cracked the trifecta, and that was against easier competition.

The morning line favorite is #6 Dixie Rag (3-1), fourth and seventh in her first two starts against maiden special weight competition at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Dropping in class could be a winning move for the Brendan Walsh trainee, since Walsh strikes at a lofty 32% rate with horses descending from maiden special weight to maiden claiming company. The fact Dixie Rag will be ridden by Churchill’s leading jockey Tyler Gaffalione adds to the appeal.

Here’s the downside: Dixie Rag is a deep closer without any tactical speed, and she fared better in her first start (a sprint with a decent pace) than her second start (a route with a slow pace). There isn’t much speed in Friday’s field, so Dixie Rag may be compromised.

We prefer the chances of #1 Guest of Honor (7-2). The Brad Cox trainee debuted in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland last month and never really fired while finishing seventh. The race was restricted to horses who brought a final bid of $50,000 or less at their most recent auction, but the quality of competition was actually okay; runaway winner Thorpedo Anna came back to dominate an allowance optional claimer and is favored to win Saturday’s Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs.

Descending into a $30,000 maiden claimer can help Guest of Honor produce a more competitive run, since Cox (like Walsh) wins at a 32% rate with horses making this class drop. The fact she’ll be guided by hot apprentice jockey Axel Concepcion (who rides with a five-pound weight allowance) adds to the appeal.

So here’s what we’ll do—we’ll key Guest of Honor on top in the Super High 5, count on Dixie Rag to finish in the top four, and spread a bit deeper for the remaining slots.

  • $1 Super High 5: 1 with 6 with 3,4 with 2,3,4,5 with 2,3,4,5 ($12)
  • $1 Super High 5: 1 with 3,4 with 6 with 2,3,4,5 with 2,3,4,5 ($12)
  • $1 Super High 5: 1 with 3,4 with 2,3,4,5 with 6 with 2,3,4,5 ($12)
  • $1 Super High 5: 1 with 2,5 with 6 with 3,4 with 2,3,4,5 ($8)
  • $1 Super High 5: 1 with 2,5 with 3,4 with 6 with 2,3,4,5 ($8)
    Total: $52

Good luck!