Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of Sept. 22

September 22nd, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, Sept. 22 at Churchill Downs and Charles Town, along with a horse to single in the $4,300 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.
  • $2,000 Everest Carnival Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets at Rosehill (AUS) on Friday to compete for your share of $2,000 in prizes.
  • Caesars Trotting Classic $5,000 Stakes Challenge: Make winning $10+ win wagers in selected stakes races on Friday at Hoosier Park to win a share of a $5,000 prize.
  • Caesars Trotting Classic $5,000 Late Pick 4 Hit It & Split It: Hit the Late Pick 4 (Races 12-15) on Friday at Hoosier Park to earn your share of an additional $5,000 jackpot.

Picks and Plays

Churchill Downs: Race 4: $150,000 Maiden Claiming (6 1/2 furlongs, 2:13 p.m. ET)

#10 Burgundy Royale (6-1) raced greenly when debuting in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis Park, finishing last against a deep field including future Hopeful (G1) runner-up Timberlake and Iroquois (G3) winner West Saratoga. But Burgundy Royale improved significantly in his second start, dueling for command in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis before weakening to finish sixth by 3 3/4 lengths.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas wins at a 24% rate with horses transitioning from maiden special weight to maiden claiming competition, so let’s take advantage of the Churchill Downs $10 Money Back promotion and place a $20 win bet on Burgundy Royale—we’ll receive a $10 refund if he finishes second or third.

For good measure, we’ll play Burgundy Royale over #9 Chryso Alogo (4-1) and #6 Flotation Station (5-2) in the exacta.


  • #10 Burgundy Royale (6-1)
  • #9 Chryso Alogo (4-1)
  • #6 Flotation Station (5-2)


  • $20 to win on #10 Burgundy Royale
  • $5 Exacta: 10 with 6,9 ($10)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (seven furlongs, 2:45 p.m. ET)

#2 Top Gun Rocket (5-1) has posted five bullet workouts over the Churchill Downs training track, including five furlongs from the starting gate in 1:00. As a son of Into Mischief out of Rocket Twentyone, Top Gun Rocket has the pedigree to show speed and mature from an early age; his full-sister Frank’s Rockette is a 10-time stakes-winning sprinter who placed multiple times against Grade 1 company at age two.

A win bet on Top Gun Rocket is in order, along with an exacta using #9 Masmak (9-2) and #8 Informed Patriot (3-1) for second place.


  • #2 Top Gun Rocket (5-1)
  • #9 Masmak (9-2)
  • #8 Informed Patriot (3-1)


  • $20 to win on #2 Top Gun Rocket
  • $5 Exacta: 2 with 8,9 ($10)
    Total: $30

Charles Town: Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (4 1/2 furlongs, 8:32 p.m. ET)

Since 2021, trainer Jeff Runco has compiled an excellent 7-for-29 (24%) record debuting juveniles at Charles Town, with 79% finishing in the top three. This bodes well for Runco’s unraced two-year-old #3 Aye Calypso (5-2), who has put together a sharp work tab capped off by three furlongs in :35 4/5.

As a son of Fiber Sonde, who sires 19% winners from first-time starters, Aye Calypso is bred to win from an early age. Throw in hot jockey Arnaldo Bocachica (a 30% winner at Charles Town this meet), and Aye Calypso is well worth betting to win and keying over #1 Take Your Time (7-2) and #4 Good Buzz (5-1) in the exacta.


  • #3 Aye Calypso (5-2)
  • #1 Take Your Time (7-2)
  • #4 Good Buzz (5-1)


  • $18 to win on #3 Aye Calypso
  • $6 Exacta: 3 with 1,4 ($12)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Penn National: Race 4: $4,300 Pick 5 carryover (7:28 p.m. ET)

If you have a craving to play the Friday evening card at Penn National, either you’ve heard about the non-jackpot $4,300 Pick 5 carryover up for grabs, or else you’re lucky to have picked the night a carryover is on the table.

Penn National’s Pick 5 features a $1 minimum bet amount, double the 50-cent minimum found at many other tracks. That makes it twice as expensive to play, adding to the complexity of a sequence that features 44 horses (averaging 8.8 per race) and 50,400 possible outcomes before scratches.

Looking for a single to build tickets around? Check out Race 5, a $25,000 maiden claimer taking place over six furlongs on dirt. With only seven horses in the entries, Race 5 features the smallest field in the Pick 5 sequence, making it mathematically the soundest spot in which to seek a single.

The morning line favorite is #1 Chapa (9-5), a three-year-old filly taking on males, and she looks like a standout even while stepping outside the filly and mare ranks. She debuted in an Aug. 3 maiden special weight for fillies and mares sprinting six furlongs at Penn National and showed pace-tracking speed to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths, earning a 74 Brisnet Speed rating.

Chapa tackled another six-furlong maiden special weight for fillies and mares on Aug. 24 at Penn National and carved out a quick pace before battling on to finish second by three-quarters of a length, earning a 72 Brisnet Speed rating. 

None of the colts and geldings in Friday’s field have posted a Brisnet Speed rating higher than 66, so Chapa is a standout while dropping down into a $25,000 maiden claimer. Trainer T. Bernard Houghton wins at a 32% rate with horses descending from maiden special weight to maiden claiming competition, and Chapa is adding Lasix (a 22% winning move for Houghton), so there are plenty of positive angles in Chapa’s corner.

Throw in the fact pacesetters have won 40% of six-furlong dirt sprints at Penn National this meet, and Chapa—who appears likely to lead the way while breaking from the rail—is a compelling Pick 5 single.

Good luck!