Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of July 20

July 20th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, July 20 at Saratoga, Colonial Downs, and Charles Town, along with a horse to single in the $835 Pick 5 carryover at Belterra Park.

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.
  • Colonial Downs Thursday Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets on Thursdays at Colonial Downs to compete for your share of a $2,500 weekly jackpot.

Picks and Plays

Saratoga: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 1:44 p.m. ET)

Trainer Juan Avila has debuted exactly one juvenile at Saratoga since 2018. That was V Mart, a terrific 8 3/4-length winner of a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for horses who brought a final bid of $50,000 or less at their most recent auction. V Mart entered off 10 workouts at Monmouth Park and was ridden to victory by Carlos Olivero.

Can history repeat itself with #6 Catire Vizcaya (8-1)? This Avila trainee is tackling the same class level, enters off nine workouts at Monmouth, and is slated to be ridden by Olivero. At 8-1, we’re willing to bet Catire Vizcaya can mimic V Mart and spring a surprise at Saratoga.

#7 Antonio of Venice (8-5) and #1 Walstib (5-2) are the two we’ll add for an exacta play.


  • #6 Catire Vizcaya (8-1)
  • #7 Antonio of Venice (8-5)
  • #1 Walstib (5-2)


  • $20 to win on #6 Catire Vizcaya
  • $5 Exacta: 6 with 1,7 ($10)
    Total: $30

Colonial Downs: Race 9: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 5:37 p.m. ET)

#5 Lou Anna (10-1) showed some ability when debuting in a five-furlong maiden special weight over the Churchill Downs main track, rallying from last place to finish fourth by 1 1/2 lengths. As a half-sister to Rustler, winner of the seven-furlong Carle Place S. on turf at Belmont Park, Lou Anna has the pedigree to shine while switching surfaces for her second start.

A win bet will be our primary play, followed by an exacta adding #2 Memorialize (4-1) and #3 Victory Badge (5-1) for second place.


  • #5 Lou Anna (10-1)
  • #2 Memorialize (4-1)
  • #3 Victory Badge (5-1)


  • $20 to win on #5 Lou Anna
  • $5 Exacta: 5 with 2,3 ($10)
    Total: $30

Charles Town: Race 1: $5,000 Claiming (4 1/2 furlongs, 7:00 p.m. ET)

Pacesetters have won 52% of 4 1/2-furlong sprints at Charles Town since Jan. 4, and that’s from a large sample size of 289 races. The power of early speed bodes well for #8 Sing a Lullabye (9-5), who has set the pace in all four of her starts.

Sing a Lullabye wrapped up 2022 with a sharp performance in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight, defeating a next-out winner by three lengths. This $5,000 claimer is restricted to horses who have never won two races, and Sing a Lullabye is the only entrant who scored her first victory in a maiden special weight as opposed to a maiden claimer.

Sing a Lullabye owns the two highest Brisnet Speed ratings in Thursday’s field and should be tough to catch in her 2023 debut. Let’s play her over #3 Ellies At Windsor (2-1) in a cold exacta.


  • #8 Sing a Lullabye (9-5)
  • #3 Ellies At Windsor (2-1)
  • #5 Iminchargenow (6-1)


  • $25 Exacta: 8 with 3

Carryover Watch

Belterra Park: Race 4: $835 Pick 5 carryover (2:55 p.m. ET)

There were just enough surprises in Wednesday’s Pick 5 at Belterra Park to trigger an $835 carryover for Thursday’s offering of the 50-cent wager.

A tricky sequence awaits. Before scratches, the Pick 5 contains 45 horses (averaging nine per race) and 49,920 possible outcomes. Finding a single will be important for bettors hoping to play strong Pick 5 tickets on modest budgets, but the races look competitive on paper and don’t contain any obvious standouts at first glance.

Mathematically speaking, the best place to seek a single is Race 4, a $12,500 claimer for Ohio-bred fillies and mares who have never won two races. Only half a dozen horses have entered the six-furlong dirt dash, so picking any of them at random gives you about a 17% chance at landing on the winner.

Of course, we can increase our chances by consciously picking a logical contender like #4 Just Zoey (7-2). The six-year-old mare has only run twice this season, both times sprinting six furlongs at Belterra. On June 22, she dueled for the early lead in an allowance before weakening to finish fourth. Then on July 8, she carved out a solid pace in a $12,500 claimer for Ohio-bred non-winners of two races before staying on to finish second.

The third-place finisher on July 8 was #2 Shady Baby (5-2), the morning line favorite to win Thursday’s fourth race. Just Zoey finished three lengths clear of Shady Baby and should have every chance to maintain her superiority on Thursday. Speed carries well in six-furlong dirt sprints at Belterra (with pacesetters winning at a 34% rate), and Just Zoey is slated to be ridden by Belterra’s leading jockey John McKee (a 26% winner this meet), so there are lots of positives in Just Zoey’s corner.

Some Pick 5 bettors might feel inclined to use both Just Zoey and Shady Baby, since both have early speed and figure to benefit from the track profile while squaring off in a small field. But the fact Just Zoey beat Shady Baby decisively 12 days ago tips the scales in Just Zoey’s favor, stamping the morning line second choice as a viable single to start the Pick 5.

Good luck!