Keeler Johnson's picks and plays March 17

March 17th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, March 17 at Fair Grounds, Santa Anita, and Turfway Park, including a ticket for the $13,746 Super High 5 carryover at Santa Anita.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Winter Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races Friday through Sunday.
  • Cheltenham Festival Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in any eligible race at Cheltenham from March 14-17.

Picks and Plays

Fair Grounds: Race 6: $80,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (1 1/16 miles, 4:45 p.m. ET)

#4 Merlazza (9-5) was beaten a head in her debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, then returned to win an identical maiden special weight by 3 1/4 lengths.

As a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro out of a Distorted Humor mare, Merlazza has the pedigree to stretch out in distance for trainer Brad Cox, who wins at a lofty 38% rate with horses tackling a route race off consecutive sprints. Throw in hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 33% winner at Fair Grounds this meet), and Merlazza looks ready to roll in her first try against winners.

We’ll add #7 Stellar Lady (9-2), #3 Bru Na Boinne (9-2), and #2 Huntleigh (5-1) for exacta and trifecta tickets.


  • #4 Merlazza (9-5)
  • #7 Stellar Lady (9-2)
  • #3 Bru Na Boinne (9-2)


  • $5 Exacta: 4 with 2,3,7 ($15)
  • $2.50 Trifecta: 4 with 2,3,7 with 2,3,7 ($15)
    Total: $30

Santa Anita: Race 6: Irish O’Brien S. (about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, 6:36 p.m. ET)

#3 Big Summer (7-5) loves the downhill turf course at Santa Anita. Her record over this configuration is impressive: an allowance victory on Oct. 7, a tenacious triumph in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint on Jan. 7, and a close second in the Wishing Well S. on Feb. 18.

Big Summer enters the Irish O’Brien off a bullet five-furlong workout and should be tough to beat. #2 Alice Marble (8-5), runner-up in the Monrovia (G2) over this course last summer, can complete a cold exacta


  • #3 Big Summer (7-5)
  • #2 Alice Marble (8-5)
  • #5 Taming the Tigress (4-1)


  • $25 Exacta: 3 with 2

Turfway Park: Race 7: WEBN Frog S. (six furlongs on Tapeta, 8:55 p.m. ET)

#1 Opening Buzz (5-2) is 3-for-3 sprinting on Tapeta, most notably rallying to victory in Turfway’s 6 1/2-furlong Wishing Well S. on Jan. 28. That effort produced a sharp 91 Brisnet Speed rating.

Opening Buzz subsequently faltered when stretching out over one mile for Turfway’s Feb. 25 Wintergreen S., finishing sixth in a large field. But cutting back to six furlongs can trigger a rebound.

Let’s bet Opening Buzz on top of trifecta and superfecta tickets keying #6 Awesome Treat (7-2) for second place while adding #2 Thunder Love (9-2), #3 Altered Shot (5-1), #4 Quaria Comet (3-1), and #7 Baby No Worries (8-1) underneath.


  • #1 Opening Buzz (5-2)
  • #6 Awesome Treat (7-2)
  • #2 Thunder Love (9-2)


  • $4.50 Trifecta: 1 with 6 with 2,3,4,7 ($18)
  • $1 Superfecta: 1 with 6 with 2,3,4,7 with 2,3,4,7 ($12)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Santa Anita, Race 1: $13,746 Super High 5 carryover (4:00 p.m. ET)

If you want to win a share of the $13,746 Super High 5 carryover up for grabs in Friday’s first race at Santa Anita, you’ll have to decipher a $20,000 maiden claimer that pretty much defies deciphering.

The six-furlong dirt sprint is open to horses aged four and five, conditions that have attracted a field of eight. There are only 6,720 possible Super High 5 outcomes, and yet it seems like almost any of those outcomes could viably unfold.

The most trustworthy horse in the race is probably #3 Lemon Drop Shot (3-1), a five-year-old gelding with a 13-0-8-2 lifetime record. He’s cracked the trifecta in six of his seven dirt races and regularly posts Brisnet Speed ratings in the 73-83 range, including an 83 when finishing third over this track and class level on Feb. 18. But with zero wins and eight seconds, Lemon Drop Shot seems more likely to settle for a minor award than vie for victory.

The problem is, it’s hard to know what to expect from Lemon Drop Shot’s challengers. #1 Carpe Bellum (5-1) is dropping in class out of maiden special weights and a $50,000 maiden claimer, but he’s competed exclusively on turf and has yet to finish better than sixth. Morning line favorite #4 Hulk (5-2) has placed against tougher competition, but he finished fourth in his lone dirt start and hasn’t run since July.

On the other end of the spectrum, #7 Honeymoon Suite (4-1) hasn’t hit the board in five starts since the summer of 2021, but he got burned up setting a fast pace over this track and class level on Feb. 18, so there’s room for improvement if he gets a better setup. #8 Ravello (12-1) has yet to race and doesn’t boast a particularly flashy work tab, but trainer Quinn Howey wins at a respectable 15% rate with first-time starters.

So let’s take an admittedly unusual approach to betting the Super High 5. We’ll key Lemon Drop Shot in second place and use many of the other runners on top:

  • $1 Super High 5: 1,4,7,8 with 3 with 1,4,7,8 with 1,4,6,7,8 with 1,4,6,7,8 ($72)

Good luck!