Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of Sept. 15

September 15th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, Sept. 15 at Churchill Downs, along with a horse to single in the $4,055 Pick 5 carryover at Penn National.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Los Alamitos $3,000 Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets at Los Alamitos from Friday through Sunday to compete for your share of $3,000 in prizes.
  • Churchill Downs $10 Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races at Churchill Downs.
  • Hoosier Park $10 Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in select races at Hoosier Park.
  • $2,000 Everest Carnival Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets at Royal Randwick (AUS) on Friday to compete for your share of $2,000 in prizes.

Picks and Plays

Churchill Downs: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/16 miles, 2:45 p.m. ET)

#5 Chaperone (10-1) ran into a lot of trouble at the start of his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Saratoga and never challenged thereafter, finishing seventh. But it’s worth noting he didn’t lose any more ground after falling a dozen lengths off the early pace; from that point on, he ran pretty much evenly compared to the leaders.

As a son of Curlin out of Cotillion (G1) winner It Tiz Well, Chaperone is bred top and bottom to thrive running long. If he gets a clean trip while stretching out around two turns at Churchill Downs, Chaperone can move forward in a big way and potentially vie for victory at double-digit odds.

Thanks to the Churchill Downs $10 Money Back promotion, we can place a $10 win bet on Chaperone and receive a refund if he finishes second or third. For good measure, we’ll bet him over #1 Real Men Violin (5-2) and #8 B Wayne (5-1) in the exacta.


  • #5 Chaperone (10-1)
  • #1 Real Men Violin (5-2)
  • #8 B Wayne (5-1)


  • $10 to win on #5 Chaperone
  • $5 Exacta: 5 with 1,8 ($10)
    Total: $20

Churchill Downs: Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/16 miles, 3:50 p.m. ET)

Trainer Tom Amoss wins at a 38% rate with horses debuting over one mile or farther, which bodes well for #2 Bayou Magic (6-1). The unraced Amoss juvenile is a son of champion two-year-old male Good Magic out of Krazy Kathy, who previously foaled one-mile Central Park winner Bat Flip.

Bayou Magic enters off a lengthy series of workouts, including several over five furlongs, so he should be fit for a competitive effort while debuting around two turns. At 6-1, he’s worth betting to win and playing over #3 Black Diamond (4-1) and #9 Django (9-2) in the exacta.


  • #2 Bayou Magic (6-1)
  • #3 Black Diamond (4-1)
  • #9 Django (9-2)


  • $15 to win on #2 Bayou Magic
  • $5 Exacta: 2 with 3,9 ($10)
    Total: $25

Churchill Downs: Race 8: $100,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (6 1/2 furlongs, 4:22 p.m. ET)

#3 American Rascal (8-5) may have misfired in the Norfolk (G2) on grass at Royal Ascot last time out, finishing 13th, but in his debut on dirt at Keeneland he obliterated the competition by 10 1/4 lengths. That easy victory yielded a flashy 95 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest in Friday’s field.

Getting back on dirt in the U.S. might be all American Rascal needs to rebound. He enters off three straight bullet workouts and has accomplished Churchill Downs jockey Tyler Gaffalione named to ride, so let’s key American Rascal over fast Ellis Park maiden winner #2 Normandy Hero (3-1) in a cold exacta.


  • #3 American Rascal (8-5)
  • #2 Normandy Hero (3-1)
  • #6 Coulditbemajic (6-1)


  • $30 Exacta: 3 with 2

Carryover Watch

Penn National: Race 2: $4,055 Pick 5 carryover (4:29 p.m. ET)

Want to win a share of Friday’s $4,055 Pick 5 carryover at Penn National? You’ll have to decipher a mathematically challenging sequence.

The numbers don’t lie, this is a tricky Pick 5. Every race contains at least eight horses, and there are 42 horses in total, averaging 8.4 per race. It works out to 40,960 possible outcomes, which is a lot when you consider how the Penn National Pick 5 features a minimum bet amount of $1, double the 50-cent minimum commonly found at other tracks.

The key to keeping costs manageable is to find a trustworthy single to build tickets around. Once you’ve settled on a single, the number of possible outcomes to analyze is dramatically reduced.

Fortunately, Friday’s Pick 5 contains a viable single in the form of #7 Wild Vine (8-5) in Race 5, a maiden special weight for Pennsylvania-breds sprinting six furlongs on dirt. The par winning Brisnet Speed rating for this type of race is 79, but the only horse in Friday’s field who has posted a number higher than 72 is Wild Vine.

Wild Vine actually towers over this field from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective. He debuted in a non-state-restricted $25,000 maiden claimer sprinting six furlongs at Penn National last December and rallied to finish second by a head, earning an 83 Brisnet Speed rating. Both the winner and the third-place finisher returned to win their next starts.

Wild Vine tackled the same track, distance, and class level in his second start on Feb. 8, when he tracked the pace before staying on to finish second with a 77 Brisnet Speed rating. The third-place finisher returned to win, flattering Wild Vine’s form.

Wild Vine hasn’t run since, but trainer Flint Stites wins at a lofty 21% rate with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more, and Wild Vine recently clocked a bullet five furlongs at Penn National in :59 1/5. All signs suggest this four-year-old gelding will be primed for a strong performance off the layoff, and for good measure he has hot jockey Julio Hernandez (a 20% winner at Penn National this meet) named to ride.

In short, what’s not to like? If you single Wild Vine in the Pick 5, you’ll reduce the number of possible outcomes to consider from 40,960 down to 5,120. That sounds like a pretty good bet.

Good luck!