Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of May 18

May 18th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, May 18 at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, and Gulfstream Park, including a ticket for Churchill’s $17,377 Super High 5 carryover.

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

Gulfstream Park: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs, 1:20 p.m. ET)

#1 Briseida (8-1) suffered a slow start in her debut sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs over this track and class level, but never gave up and gained back some ground to finish fifth by six lengths. She’s adding blinkers for trainer Fausto Gutierrez (a 13% winner with second-time starters), so Briseida is eligible to move forward off her debut.

Let’s bet Briseida to win and key her over #4 Sugar N Spice (7-2) and #5 Mist (6-5) in the exacta.


  • #1 Briseida (8-1)
  • #4 Sugar N Spice (7-2)
  • #5 Mist (6-5)


  • $20 to win on #1 Briseida
  • $5 Exacta: 1 with 4,5 ($10)
    Total: $30

Belmont Park: Race 7: $80,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (seven furlongs, 6:15 p.m. ET)

In a race without much pace on paper, #4 Following Sea (3-5) looks tough to beat. The son of champion sprinter Runhappy hasn’t run in 17 months, but placed in four Grade 1 stakes (including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint) during a productive 2021 campaign. Following Sea has lots of early speed and enters off a bullet five-furlong workout over the Belmont Park training track, so he figures to be tough to catch under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

#2 Tops the Chart (8-1) has cracked the trifecta in eight straight races and is the only other obvious pace player in this small field, so we’ll count on him to round out the exacta.


  • #4 Following Sea (3-5)
  • #2 Tops the Chart (8-1)
  • #6 Gun It (9-2)


  • $25 Exacta: 4 with 2

Churchill Downs: Race 7: $80,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (1 1/16 miles on turf, 7:54 p.m. ET)

#10 Mise En Scene (5-2), a Group 3 winner in Europe, has made four starts in the United States. She finished off the board in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and 2022 American Oaks (G1), but recently returned from a four-month layoff to rally and finish second by half a length in a Keeneland allowance.

Trainer Brendan Walsh wins at a 20% rate with horses running for the second time following a layoff, so Mise En Scene is a compelling choice to take home top honors at Churchill Downs.

We’ll bet Mise En Scene to win and call it a day.


  • #10 Mise En Scene (5-2)
  • #2 Pharoah’s Song (12-1)
  • #1 Lady Puchi (12-1)


  • $30 to win on #10 Mise En Scene

Carryover Watch

Churchill Downs: Race 1: $17,377 Super High 5 carryover (5:00 p.m. ET)

The racing week at Churchill Downs kicks off on a high note with Thursday’s opening race, which offers a $17,377 non-jackpot carryover in the $1 Super High 5. If you want to win a share, you’ll have to decipher a tricky handicapping challenge.

Race 1 is a maiden special weight for two-year-olds sprinting five furlongs on dirt. The nine-horse field contains seven first-time starters, complicating the process of choosing horses to use in the Super High 5. There’s not a lot of form to go on, so we’ll have to rely on workouts, pedigrees, and trainer stats.

One first-time starter with a lot of positive angles in his corner is morning line favorite #7 Stormquist (3-1), a son of 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist out of Cajun Dawn. Nyquist sires a solid 15% winners from first-time starters, and Cajun Dawn has already foaled two stakes winners and a couple of stakes-placed runners, so there’s a lot to like about Stormquist from a pedigree perspective.

Stormquist hails from the barn of Larry Rivelli (a 23% winner with horses debuting in maiden special weights), and three consecutive bullet workouts at Hawthorne suggest Stormquist has the speed to challenge for victory on debut.

#8 Rhyme Schemes (6-1) also warrants serious respect. A son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper (who sires 10% winners from first-time starters), Rhyme Schemes is trained by Norm Casse, who boasts a terrific 7-for-15 (47%) lifetime record debuting juveniles during spring meetings at Churchill Downs. Rhyme Schemes breezed a sharp half-mile from the Churchill Downs starting gate in :48 1/5 last week and has every chance to visit the winner’s circle.

So how should we bet the Super High 5? Let’s box Stormquist and Rhyme Schemes in the top two slots, counting on them to run 1-2 in either order. Then we’ll spread a bit deeper underneath, emphasizing horses like #3 Wilson Q (6-1), #5 Gold Sweep (7-2), and #6 Top of the Street (8-1).

  • $1 Super High 5: 7,8 with 7,8 with 3,5,6 with 3,4,5,6 with 2,3,4,5,6 ($54)

Good luck!