Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of Sept. 21

September 21st, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, Sept. 21 at Horseshoe Indianapolis and Churchill Downs, along with a horse to single in the $86,515 Pick 6 carryover at Aqueduct.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Hoosier Park $1,000 Pick 4 Hit It & Split It: Hit the late Pick 4 on Thursdays at Hoosier Park to win your share of a $1,000 weekly jackpot.
  • Churchill Downs $2,000 Thursday Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets on Thursday at Churchill Downs to compete for your share of a $2,000 jackpot.
  • 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.
  • Little Brown Jug Day $10 Exacta Money Back: Receive refunds on straight exacta bets (up to $10) if your two horses finish in the top three home, but not in the winning order, in all eligible races at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on Thursday.

Picks and Plays

Horseshoe Indianapolis: Race 5: $20,000 Maiden Claiming (one mile on turf, 4:14 p.m. ET)

#9 Englished (3-1) appears well-spotted by red-hot trainer Jonathan Thomas, who has gone 7-for-19 (37%) at Horseshoe Indianapolis this meet. The beautifully bred daughter of English Channel out of a Kitten’s Joy mare has spent her first three starts competing against maiden special weight company, most recently finishing seventh at Kentucky Downs.

Dropping down into a $20,000 maiden claimer should make Englished tough to beat, especially when you consider how Thomas wins at a 39% rate with horses descending from maiden special weight to maiden claiming company.

Let’s bet Englished to win and key her over fellow class droppers #2 Calm Cool (9-2) and #4 Goodbetterbest (8-1) in the exacta.


  • #9 Englished (3-1)
  • #2 Calm Cool (9-2)
  • #4 Goodbetterbest (8-1)


  • $18 to win on #9 Englished
  • $6 Exacta: 9 with 2,4 ($12)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (one mile, 5:29 p.m. ET)

#8 Moneyshot (5-1) made a good middle move in his debut racing one mile against maiden special weight company at Ellis Park before fading to finish eighth. It wasn’t the strongest effort at first glance, but the competition was deep—the victorious West Saratoga came back to win the Iroquois (G3), while runner-up Generous Tipper returned to smash another one-mile maiden special weight by 7 1/2 lengths.

Chances are Moneyshot will encounter an easier field in his second start, and it’s worth noting trainer Michael Puhich wins at a lofty 25% rate with second-time starters. For these reasons, Moneyshot’s 5-1 morning line odds are enticing, so let’s bet him to win and call it a day.


  • #8 Moneyshot (5-1)
  • #5 Astronomico (2-1)
  • #9 Lead Foot (8-1)


  • $30 to win on #8 Moneyshot

Churchill Downs: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (seven furlongs, 6:56 p.m. ET)

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel has gone 0-for-12 saddling first-time starters over the Churchill Downs main track since 2018, but five of those runners cracked the trifecta, good for a 42% in-the-money rate.

Perhaps #3 Amy Z (8-1) can go one better and land a victory for Von Hemel. The unraced filly is a daughter of first-crop sire Maximus Mischief, an early-maturing Remsen (G2) winner who is siring winners left and right this year. Amy Z has posted several bullet workouts over the Churchill Downs training track and appears poised to outrun her morning line odds.

A win bet on Amy Z is in order, along with an exacta using #9 Gin Gin (3-1) and #4 Perfect Shot (4-1) for second place. 


  • #3 Amy Z (8-1)
  • #9 Gin Gin (3-1)
  • #4 Perfect Shot (4-1)


  • $20 to win on #3 Amy Z
  • $5 Exacta: 3 with 4,9 ($10)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Aqueduct: Race 4: $86,515 Pick 6 carryover (2:39 p.m. ET)

Far and away the most enticing carryover on Thursday can be found at Aqueduct, currently racing under the “Belmont at the Big A” branding. The track’s $1 Pick 6 has tossed up a non-jackpot carryover worth $86,515, and you can bet the final pool will be much larger.

It’s a challenging sequence on paper, containing 66 horses (averaging 11 per race) and 1,492,992 possible outcomes before scratches. Even once you account for coupled entries and also-eligible entrants, there are a lot of horses and betting combinations to sort through.

Anyone hoping to play the Pick 6 on a modest budget will need a trustworthy single to build tickets around. Fortunately, a viable option can be found right off the bat in Race 4, an $80,000 allowance optional claimer taking place over one mile on the inner turf course. Eight horses have been entered, but two are coupled for betting purposes, so with only seven betting interests before scratches it’s shaping up as the most straightforward leg of the Pick 6.

That’s made even truer by the presence of #2 Kuramata (5-2) among the entries. The six-year-old gelding ended his 2022 campaign with a decisive 2 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Oceanport S. at Monmouth Park, so we know he’s stakes-caliber on his best day.

Kuramata has run twice in 2021, both times against $80,000 allowance optional claiming competition during the summer meet at Saratoga. On July 30, in his return from an 11 1/2-month layoff, Kuramata tracked the pace in a 1 1/16-mile contest and took the lead in midstretch before settling for second place by a neck. Identical tactics in a 1 1/8-mile race on Aug. 24 produced a similar result—Kuramata held the lead at the eighth pole, but faltered late to finish third by three lengths.

Cutting back to one mile should suit Kuramata just fine, and the competition at Aqueduct figures to be a little easier than at Saratoga. He’s conditioned by renowned turf trainer Chad Brown and will be ridden by accomplished turf jockey Flavien Prat, so all signs suggest Kuramata is sitting on a winning run. In short, he’s a compelling single to start the Pick 6. 

Good luck!