Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of May 11

May 11th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, May 11 at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs, along with horses to single in the $25,665 Pick 5 carryover at Charles Town.

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 Twilight Thursday Leaderboard: Place $10+ win bets at Churchill Downs to play for your share of a $2,500 weekly jackpot.

Picks and Plays

Belmont Park: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs on turf, 3:05 p.m. ET)

Since 2021, trainer Wesley Ward has gone 5-for-10 (50%) debuting juveniles during the first five months of the year at Belmont Park. This is a positive sign for #1 Sam’s Treasure (8-5) and #5 Chitarra (2-1), a pair of pricey auction acquisitions we’ll use in exacta wagers.

But our top choice in this maiden sprint for juveniles is longshot #3 Just the Oaks (15-1). While this James Chapman trainee failed to challenge in her debut sprinting five furlongs over the Belmont Park main track, finishing last of five, she tossed her head at the start, broke very slowly, and fell 19 lengths off the early pace before gaining back a bit of ground.

Since 2022, Chapman has gone 6-2-0-1 (33%) saddling experienced juveniles during the first five months of the year at Belmont Park. During the same time frames, he’s gone winless with seven first-time starters. As a daughter of Triple Crown winner Justify, Just the Oaks has the pedigree to handle turf, so switching surfaces for her second start can trigger a big step forward at enticing odds.

We’ll use Just for Oaks for first and second place in exactas with the Ward trainees.


  • #3 Just the Oaks (15-1)
  • #1 Sam’s Treasure (8-5)
  • #5 Chitarra (2-1)


  • $10 Exacta: 1,5 with 3 ($20)
  • $5 Exacta: 3 with 1,5 ($10)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs, 5:00 p.m. ET)

During the 2022 Churchill Downs spring meet, trainer Eddie Kenneally compiled a solid 4-1-2-1 record with debuting juveniles. That’s a 25% win rate and a 100% in-the-money rate.

With this in mind, we’ll back Kenneally’s #3 Patch O’Brien (6-1) in this maiden sprint for juveniles. Patch O’Brien breezed a bullet three furlongs in :37 last month, followed up with a solid half-mile from the starting gate in :49, and is slated to be ridden by hot jockey Luis Saez. Over the last two months, Saez and Kenneally have won at a 25% rate teaming up together.

We’ll bet Patch O’Brien to win, then single him to start a double wager.


  • #3 Patch O’Brien (6-1)
  • #10 Imperial Thunder (12-1)
  • #2 Five o’ Somewhere (15-1)


  • $15 to win on #3 Patch O’Brien
  • $5 Double: 3 with 2,6,10 ($15)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (4 1/2 furlongs, 5:29 p.m. ET)

Three fillies in this maiden dash for juveniles look enticing. #2 Musical Diva (5-2) enters off a bullet half-mile workout from the starting gate for hot trainer Brad Cox, a 33% winner to start the Churchill Downs meet. #6 Too Fast for You (6-1) has compiled a sharp work tab for the above-mentioned Eddie Kenneally. #10 Girls Weekend (5-1) could be any sort after turning in a blazing series of workouts (including three bullets) at Keeneland.

We’ll box Musical Diva, Too Fast for You, and Girls Weekend in an exacta.


  • #10 Girls Weekend (5-1)
  • #6 Too Fast for You (6-1)
  • #2 Musical Diva (5-2)


  • $5 Exacta: box 2,6,10 ($30)

Carryover Watch

Charles Town: Race 4: $25,665 Pick 5 carryover (8:25 p.m. ET)

The Thursday card at Charles Town brings a lucrative $25,665 non-jackpot Pick 5 carryover to the table.

We’ve analyzed the entries to identify one strong single and another possible single worth building tickets around:

Best single: Race 7: #4 Penguin Power (1-1)

Pacesetters have won 50% of 4 1/2-furlong sprints at Charles Town since Jan. 4, and that’s from a large sample size of 195 races. Frontrunners were especially dominant between April 30 and May 6, going 8-for-9 (89%).

These stats bode well for Penguin Power in this $20,000 allowance optional claimer taking place over 4 1/2 furlongs. After all, he’s set, pressed, or tracked the pace in each of his last eight starts. The eight-year-old gelding boasts a 17-for-27 lifetime record at Charles Town and a 3-for-5 record sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs, which includes victories in the Last Enchantment WV S. and West Virginia Dash for Cash Breeders’ Classic S. to wrap up 2022. Those wins yielded sharp Brisnet Speed ratings of 90 and 93.

Six of Penguin Power’s seven Thursday rivals have yet to post a Brisnet Speed rating higher than 86, and the one who has exceeded that plateau hasn’t posted a number higher than 79 in 2022 or 2023, so Penguin Power is shaping up as the fastest entrant on paper. He kicked off 2023 with a decent third-place finish in a $20,000 allowance optional claimer sprinting seven furlongs at Charles Town, a contest in which he stumbled at the start before recovering to set the pace. Cutting back to 4 1/2 furlongs for his second run of the season can send Penguin Power straight to the winner’s circle under hot jockey Arnaldo Bocachica.

Second-best single: Race 6: #3 Oppo Taco (4-1)

We’ll concede that morning line favorite #4 Gallant Creed (9-5) is a logical choice after finishing fourth and second in his first two starts over this track, distance, and class level. But the daughter of Jimmy Creed earned modest Brisnet Speed ratings of 65 and 67 (lower than the 71 that ranks as par for Thursday’s conditions) and isn’t guaranteed to improve in her third start.

In contrast, Oppo Taco has a lot in her favor. She’s a three-year-old daughter of Bandbox (who sires a solid 17% winners from first-time starters), and her trainer is David Walters, a 23% winner with first-time starters. Even better, Walters has gone 6-for-18 (33%) debuting three-year-olds at Charles Town since 2018.

Oppo Taco enters off an encouraging series of workouts and looks ready to vie for victory on debut. Using her in equal strength with Gallant Creed should be a sound strategy for surviving the Pick 5, but bold bettors (or those playing on modest budgets) might consider singling Oppo Taco as an alternative.

Good luck!