Keeler Johnson's picks and plays of March 31

March 31st, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares picks and plays for Friday, March 31 at Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Turfway Park, including tickets for Turfway’s $5,177 Super High 5 carryover.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Australian Autumn Racing Carnival: Place $10+ win bets at a selected Australian racetrack every Friday from March 17 through April 7 to earn points and win a trip to the 2023 The Everest in Australia.

Picks and Plays

Tampa Bay Downs: Race 3: $32,000 Maiden Claiming (1 1/16 miles on turf, 1:27 p.m. ET)

#9 Whiskeymac (5-2) has finished second in his last two starts over this course and class level. On Feb. 23, he pressed the pace and seized a clear lead in midstretch before weakening to finish second by a neck. Then on March 4, he rallied from a couple lengths off the pace to finish half a length away from victory.

Whiskeymac was claimed out of the latter contest by Darien Rodriguez, a terrific 38% winner with horses running back for the first time following a claim. We’ll count on Whiskeymac to nab top honors over #5 Ballindine (9-2), who finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Whiskeymac when third on March 4.


  • #9 Whiskeymac (5-2)
  • #5 Ballindine (9-2)
  • #1 Wrecking Ball (4-1)


Oaklawn Park: Race 9: Matron S. (six furlongs, 5:58 p.m. ET)

#6 Wicked Halo (2-1) is the morning line favorite to win this competitive sprint after compiling a strong 2022 campaign highlighted by four stakes win and a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). But #2 Matareya (5-2) has every chance to spring a mild surprise.

Matareya won three graded stakes in 2022, posting blowout victories in the Beaumont (G3), Eight Belles (G2), and Acorn (G1). In the Eight Belles, Matareya finished 4 1/4 lengths clear of Wicked Halo, who settled for third place.

Matareya hasn’t run since finishing a surprising third as the 3-10 favorite in the Test (G1) at Saratoga last August, after which she disappeared from the work tab until January. But she’s turned in a lengthy series of sharp workouts in preparation for her return and figures to fire a strong shot under hot jockey Flavien Prat, who has gone 5-for-11 (45%) at Oaklawn this meet and 5-for-9 (56%) teaming up with Cox over the last two months.


  • #2 Matareya (5-2)
  • #6 Wicked Halo (2-1)
  • #3 Pretty Birdie (7-2)


  • $25 Exacta: 2 with 6

Turfway Park: Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (6 1/2 furlongs on Tapeta, 8:55 p.m. ET)

#2 American Heights (2-1) has finished second in three straight maiden special weight sprints at Turfway Park. She was particularly sharp in a 6 1/2-furlong contest on Jan. 21, carving out the pace before missing victory by a nose.

American Heights subsequently dueled through blazing splits of :21.96 and :44.60 in a six-furlong dash on March 11 before weakening to finish 3 1/2 lengths behind the pace-tracking winner. If American Heights escapes with an easier lead on Friday (which appears straightforward enough on paper), she can snatch victory over #6 Mystic Pleasure (3-1) and #9 My Lily Mae (7-2).


  • #2 American Heights (2-1)
  • #6 Mystic Pleasure (3-1)
  • #9 My Lily Mae (7-2)


  • $15 to win on #2 American Heights
  • $5 Exacta: 2 with 6,9 ($10)
    Total: $25

Carryover Watch

Turfway Park, Race 9: $5,177 Super High 5 carryover (9:55 p.m. ET)

The penultimate day of racing at the Turfway Park winter meet brings a $5,177 non-jackpot carryover in the $1 Super High 5.

The prize pool is available to chase in Race 9, a deep maiden special weight for three-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on Tapeta. A field of 14 has been entered, though that includes a couple of also-eligible entrants. Assuming a dozen runners start, there will be 95,040 possible Super High 5 outcomes.

The problem for bettors hoping to play the Super High 5 on any sort of reasonable budget is the fact there are nine first-time starters in the entries, including seven in the main body of the field. Predicting which fillies are ready to fire competitive shots on debut is bound to be difficult.

That said, a couple of the first-time starters have highly favorable trainer stats in their corners. For example, #3 Hurry Up Hannah (8-1) hails from the barn of William Cowans, who has gone 9-for-30 (30%) at Turfway since Nov. 30. That includes a 2-for-6 (33%) record with first-time starters, which is even better than Cowans’ overall 26% win rate with debuting runners.

Another filly who can’t be dismissed is #10 Fogo Island (7-2). She’s a daughter of Speightstown, who sires an excellent 15% winners from first-time starters, and her trainer is Paulo Lobo, a 23% winner at Turfway since Nov. 30. Lobo’s record includes a 3-for-11 (27%) tally with first-time starters.

We might be a little less keen to embrace #5 All That (3-1). Her pedigree (by Flatter out of Cash Control, by Pioneerof the Nile) is geared toward late maturity rather than success from an early age, and trainer Brad Cox has gone only 1-for-7 (14%) with horses debuting in sprints at Turfway since Nov. 30. All That has compiled a decent work tab and has a chance to crack the Super High 5, but victory isn’t necessarily in the cards despite her status as the morning line favorite.

So what’s the takeaway? We suggest playing Hurry Up Hannah and Fogo Island on top in the Super High 5. All That is worth mixing in underneath, and so too is #1 Miss Lizzy (6-1), possibly the best of the experienced runners after finishing second twice over this track, distance, and class level. Add in a dose of speedy longshot #8 Wicked Frost (20-1), the second-time starter #11 Hartful Hope (9-2), and the debuting #6 Morethananyone (8-1) and you’ll have a solid shot to cash the Super High 5.

Good luck!