Keeler Johnson's picks and plays for May 29

May 29th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares Memorial Day picks and plays for Monday, May 29 at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, and Santa Anita, including a ticket for the mandatory-payout $359,911 Pick 6 carryover at Santa Anita.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Assiniboia Downs $1,000 Late Pick 4 Hit It & Split It: Hit the Late Pick 4 at Assiniboia Downs to split an additional $1,000 jackpot.
  • $10,000 Memorial Day Mega Jackpot: Make a winning $10 win wager on 10 selected races at selected tracks on Memorial Day to win a share of a $10,000 jackpot. If no player hits a winning wager in all 10 races, the jackpot will be split among players who make the most winning wagers.

Picks and Plays

Belmont Park: Race 4: Mike Lee S. (seven furlongs, 2:32 p.m. ET)

#3 Maker’s Candy (5-2) has shown speed and talent competing against New York-bred rivals, dominating a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct by 6 3/4 lengths before crossing the wire first in the Gander S. over the same track and distance. (He was disqualified and placed second in the Gander for interfering with a rival.)

Maker’s Candy faltered when switching to Tapeta and facing tougher competition in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, but he actually ran okay to finish fifth in a large field. The winner, Two Phil’s, returned to finish second in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Returning to the New York-bred ranks for the Mike Lee can trigger a winning performance from Maker’s Candy. The fact trainer Mike Maker is winning at a 25% rate at Belmont adds to the appeal.

Let’s bet Maker’s Candy to win and key him on top of trifecta tickets emphasizing #2 Radio Red (4-1) underneath. The latter has won two of his last three starts, and that one defeat came when he chased a hot pace in the Gotham (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.


  • #3 Maker’s Candy (5-2)
  • #2 Radio Red (4-1)
  • #1 Looms Boldly (7-2)


  • $16 to win on #3 Maker’s Candy (5-2)
  • $3.50 Trifecta: 3 with 2 with 1,5 ($7)
  • $3.50 Trifecta: 3 with 1,5 with 2 ($7)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 9: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/8 miles on turf, 4:55 p.m. ET)

#9 Sri Lanka (4-1) showed strong finishing speed in a pair of maiden special weights at Gulfstream Park. After rallying boldly to finish second by a neck in her debut racing one mile, the daughter of Munnings closed to finish fourth by two lengths in a slow-paced 1 1/16-mile contest. The winner, Mrs. Astor, recently finished fourth by less than one length in the $150,000 Horseshoe Indianapolis H.

Sri Lanka has been freshened since January by red-hot trainer Brendan Walsh, a 28% winner at Churchill Downs this meet and a 19% winner with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more. Throw in hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 23% winner this meet), and Sri Lanka is a compelling win choice at 4-1.

#5 Boppy (3-1) and #10 Freydis the Red (7-2) can battle to complete the exacta.


  • #9 Sri Lanka (4-1)
  • #5 Boppy (3-1)
  • #10 Freydis the Red (7-2)


  • $18 to win on #9 Sri Lanka
  • $6 Exacta: 9 with 5,10 ($12)
    Total: $30

Santa Anita: Race 6: Maiden Special Weight (6 1/2 furlongs, 6:42 p.m. ET)

#6 Truehood (8-5) has been firing off fast workouts at Santa Anita, including four consecutive five-furlong exercises in :59 and change. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist has been nominated to the Triple Crown by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who wins at a 30% rate with horses debuting in maiden special weights.

These are all good reasons to back Truehood, and when you add in the fact he’ll be ridden by Santa Anita’s top jockey Juan Hernandez (a 41% winner teaming up with Baffert over the last two months), Truehood looks like a near-certain winner while debuting against five rivals.

Let’s key Truehood over #4 Emerald Union (15-1) and #1 Uncle Reg (4-1) in the exacta.


  • #6 Truehood (8-5)
  • #4 Emerald Union (15-1)
  • #1 Uncle Reg (4-1)


  • $15 Exacta: 6 with 1,4 ($30)

Carryover Watch

Santa Anita: Race 5: $359,911 Pick 6 mandatory payout (6:12 p.m. ET)

Santa Anita is celebrating Memorial Day with the mandatory payout of a $359,911 carryover in the 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6.

Let’s take a race-by-race look at the sequence and assemble a ticket for approximately $75:

Race 5: Gamely (G1, 1 1/8 miles on turf)

#3 Queen Goddess (9-5) faltered when facing a deep field in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland last month, finishing sixth. But the speedy mare counts the 2021 American Oaks (G1), 2022 Santa Ana (G3), 2022 Robert J. Frankel (G3), and 2023 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3) among her victories, so we’ll draw a line through the Jenny Wiley and assume Queen Goddess will bounce back while returning to California, where she’s enjoyed the majority of her success.

We’ll also include #5 Viareggio (5-2), a Group 3 winner in Ireland who kicked off her U.S. campaign with a stretch-running allowance victory at Keeneland.

Race 6: Maiden Special Weight (6 1/2 furlongs)

As outlined earlier, we view #6 Truehood (8-5) as a standout in this small field. We’ll make him a Pick 6 single.

Race 7: Shoemaker Mile (G1, one mile on turf)

#2 Hong Kong Harry (7-2) has won three graded stakes on the Southern California circuit and exits a runner-up effort in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. He’ll be tough while returning to California, but he’s not the only viable win threat. #6 Exaulted (5-1) is 3-for-3 on turf after winning the American (G3) over this course and distance, while #1 Gold Phoenix (4-1), #7 Balnikhov (5-1), and even #8 Cabo Spirit (15-1) have the form lines to factor on their best day. We’ll also include the French raider #11 Salesman (8-1).

Race 8: Hollywood Gold Cup (G1, 1 1/4 miles)

#4 Defunded (4-5) showed a new dimension rallying from last place to win the 1 1/8-mile Californian (G2) at Santa Anita by three lengths last month. The normally speedy gelding is 0-for-2 running 1 1/4 miles, but both of those defeats came by one length or less against Grade 1 company. Defunded is catching a paceless Hollywood Gold Cup field and should be tough to catch up front, so we’ll take a stand and single him in the Pick 6.

Race 9: Allowance (one mile on turf)

This grass allowance for fillies and mares is remarkably difficult to decipher. We’ll spread deep with #1 Ultimate Hy (5-1), #2 Eleuthera (10-1), #3 Myfavoritedaughter (5-1), #5 Emerald Lake (8-1), #7 Unfaithful Ways (4-1), #8 Anisette (8-1), #11 Magic Light (20-1), and #12 Glenall (6-1).

Race 10: Allowance (about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf)

A competitive dash over the downhill turf course closes out the Pick 6. #7 Doitforandrew (4-1) has run well in both his starts over this course, distance, and class level, but in his latest try he finished a neck behind the consistent #5 King Apollo (7-2). We’ll use both and toss in #6 Nero Tulip (10-1) and #10 Wyfire (6-1) for good measure.

  • 20-cent Pick 6: 3,5 with 6 with 1,2,6,7,8,11 with 4 with 1,2,3,5,7,8,11,12 with 5,6,7,10 ($76.80)

Good luck!