Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of May 25

May 25th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Thursday, May 25 at Horseshoe Indianapolis and Churchill Downs, including tickets for the $4,239 Super High 5 carryover at Horseshoe Indianapolis.

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

Horseshoe Indianapolis: Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/16 miles on turf, 3:43 p.m. ET)

Trainer Jonathan Thomas has been on fire at Horseshoe Indianapolis this meet, compiling an 8-3-2-1 record. Plus, Thomas wins at a 20% rate with first-time starters, which bodes well for his unraced youngster #1 Smart Uncle (10-1) in this maiden contest for three-year-olds.

As a son of Uncle Mo out of a Smart Strike mare, Smart Uncle has the potential to excel on grass; Uncle Mo sires 15% winners on turf while Smart Strike sires 14% winners. Smart Uncle has breezed a couple of times over the Palm Meadows turf course and is slated to be ridden by hot jockey Declan Cannon (a 24% winner at Horseshoe Indianapolis this meet), so there’s a lot to like about Smart Uncle at 10-1 odds.

A win bet will be our primary play, followed by an exacta using #3 Manciata d’Oro (5-2) and #5 Two Rivers Over (7-2) for second place.


  • #1 Smart Uncle (10-1)
  • #3 Manciata d’Oro (5-2)
  • #5 Two Rivers Over (7-2)


  • $20 to win on #1 Smart Uncle
  • $5 Exacta: 1 with 3,5 ($10)
    Total: $30

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

#1 Go Otto Go (4-1) has shown promise for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, clocking a bullet half-mile from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 2/5 earlier this month. As a son of two-time juvenile Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro (who sires 18% winners from first-time starters), Go Otto Go has the pedigree to win from an early age.

At 4-1, Go Otto Go is worth betting to win. For good measure, we’ll bet him over #8 Bernin Hot (5-1) and #3 Beaudacious Colton (3-1) in the exacta.


  • #1 Go Otto Go (4-1)
  • #8 Bernin Hot (5-1)
  • #3 Beaudacious Colton (3-1)


  • $20 to win on #1 Go Otto Go
  • $5 Exacta: 1 with 3,8 ($10)
    Total: $30

Churchill Downs: Race 8: $80,000 Allowance Optional Claiming (1 1/8 miles, 8:23 p.m. ET)

#9 Creative Minister (5-2), the third-place finisher from the 2022 Preakness (G1), has shown an affinity for Churchill Downs. He trounced an $80,000 allowance optional claimer one year ago by 2 3/4 lengths, and in the fall he finished second by a nose in the Bourbon Trail S.

Creative Minister recently finished second in an $80,000 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland, beaten only a head after leading in midstretch. Returning to Churchill Downs can trigger the slight step forward Creative Minister needs to visit the winner’s circle.

#10 Gilded Age (3-1) and #2 Cooke Creek (7-2) can battle for exacta honors.


  • #9 Creative Minister (5-2)
  • #10 Gilded Age (3-1)
  • #2 Cooke Creek (7-2)


  • $20 to win on #9 Creative Minister (5-2)
  • $5 Exacta: 9 with 2,10 ($10)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Horseshoe Indianapolis: Race 6: $4,239 Super High 5 carryover (4:45 p.m. ET)

Many non-jackpot Super High 5 wagers feature a $1 minimum bet amount, making them pricey to play. But the “Grand High 5” at Horseshoe Indianapolis is different. The minimum bet amount is only 10 cents, which means solid tickets can be constructed at a much lower cost.

Thursday’s carryover is available to chase in Race 6, a $12,500 maiden claimer taking place over one mile on turf. A field of 13 has been entered, though three are on the also-eligible list, leaving a maximum of 10 horses to start.

The morning line favorite is #8 Mamba Forever (9-5), and the three-year-old son of West Coast looks tough to beat. Although he’s competed primarily on dirt and synthetic, Mamba Forever showed promise when switching to turf for a $30,000 maiden claimer racing one mile over the Horseshoe Indianapolis lawn last month, finishing fifth by 3 1/2 lengths after tracking the pace. Trainer Cipriano Contreras wins at a 21% rate with horses dropping multiple levels down the class ladder, so Mamba Forever should be tough to beat while descending into a $12,500 maiden claimer.

#5 Versatile (9-2), runner-up over this course, distance, and class level on May 11, is a logical contender to use underneath Mamba Forever in the Super High 5. The same goes for #4 Stealth Mission (7-2), who is dropping in class after finishing sixth in a $16,000 maiden claimer over the Tampa Bay Downs turf course to wrap up 2022.

But if you want to throw a longshot into the mix, give #2 Magna Ruler (15-1) a try. His last three turf runs have come in $25,000 maiden claimers at Tampa Bay Downs, events in which Magna Ruler finished fourth, fourth, and fifth. His Brisnet Speed ratings are competitive against Thursday’s field, so descending to the $12,500 maiden claiming level can keep Magna Ruler in the hunt for a top-five finish.

Here’s how we’ll bet the Super High 5:

  • 10-cent Super High 5: 8 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 ($12)
  • 10-cent Super High 5: 8 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 ($12)
  • 10-cent Super High 5: 8 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,7,9,10,11 ($12)
    Total: $36

Good luck!