I received a couple of emails from subscribers to this newsletter asking my thoughts on a few subjects. If you have any topics you think may be of interest to our group, feel free to email me at pickwick@msn.com.

First here is what Jim T wrote:


1.) Explain the classes of horses including maiden, maiden claiming, claiming and allowance. Explain the levels within the allowance ranks and what requirements there are for horses to run in them.

2.) Discuss fillies and mares and how to determine when one has a good chance against the males. Explain any particulars regarding the girls, especially handicapping a F/M race.

3.) Explain equipment changes, jockey changes, and medication and their effects and importance in handicapping.

Jim pretty much covered the different classes in which horses can be entered. It's the trainer's job to place his horse at the proper level, one that will give him the best chance to run well.

Although a slight percentage of first-timers will go against winners in their debut races, the huge majority will begin in a maiden race, maiden meaning non-winner.

Again, it's the trainer's decision as to whether to start his horse's career in a maiden claimer or at the maiden special weight level.

As with most claiming races, the maiden claimer race includes the risk of losing the horse. I say most claiming races because there are what are called optional claiming races for winners, in which a trainer has the "option" before the race to decide whether or not he wants to have his horse up for "sale" by having him run for the stated claiming price.

In our 2nd example race today, you will see that in a field of 6 going in a $100K optional claimer, only one horse was eligible to be claimed for that price. The connections for the remaining 5 entries did not want to risk losing their horses, even for 100 thousand dollars.

A claiming race is one that has either a firm claiming price, such as $15,000 or a range like $27,500 to $22,500. In a claiming race, a horseman, trainer or owner, can claim or purchase any horse competing in such a race.

When there is a range of claiming prices it is so trainers can get reduced weight in return for risking their horse for less. In other words, in the example of $27.5K down to $22.5K, the weight for each horse may be set at 118 pounds.

But for each $2.5K less for which the trainer is willing to have his horse claimed, 2 pounds will be taken off. So in such a race there may be 5 horses going for $27.5K, 3 going for $25K, and 3 going for $22.5K.

The weights carried for those groups of horses will be 118, 116, and 114 respectively. Some handicappers will read into such a situation a degree of trainer confidence or lack thereof, but I believe in most cases there are trainers who strongly feel that a 2 to 4 pound differential will give them an edge.

Those trainers that believe strongly that having less weight on their horse is significant will take the extra measure of using "bug" or apprentice riders, who get 7 to 5 pounds off until they win a specified number of races.

So using a 7-pound bug boy would reduce the weight on a horse in the above example from 114 all the way down to 107. The trainer of that horse will have successfully "taken off" 11 pounds for the race (from 118 down to 107).

On the other side of the coin, some trainers believe that to have a horse carrying too much "dead weight" in terms of lead in the saddle, is not a good thing.

In other words, if a horse is assigned 121 pounds and the journeyman, not apprentice, jockey weighs 107, that horse will carry 14 pounds of lead.

Most jockeys probably weigh in the neighborhood of 113 to 114 pounds, but a good number of them weigh less.

I myself don't think 4 pounds or even 14 pounds will make a bit of difference to an 1100 pound equine athlete. Some will disagree and think that weight is a factor in handicapping the thoroughbreds, but you will rarely hear me refer to it.

The way the claiming game works is that the trainer or owner will in effect put into a hat the name of a horse he (or she) wants to claim (purchase) out of a particular race on a specific day.

After the race, they will own the horse. The old connections will receive any purse money won, but the horse will go to the new trainer following the running of the race. If the horse is injured or even worse put down due to irreparable damage sustained during the race, the new connections take the loss. And they still have to pay the claiming price.

If more than one trainer or owner bids on the same horse, the winner will be drawn from the hat.

So when entering a horse to begin its career, the trainer must decide whether to put it in a claiming race or at the higher level of maiden special weight, which is similar to an allowance race in that the horse cannot be lost to someone who would like to have it in their barn.

Of course private purchases happen all the time, including last year when a couple of weeks before the Kentucky Derby War Emblem was privately bought (for about $900,000) and given over to Bob Baffert, who proceeded to watch him win the first 2 legs of the Triple Crown and eventually become the 2002 Eclipse Award winner for 3-year-old colts.

A trainer can tell pretty much by the way in which his horse is working (as well as breeding) as to the proper level in which to place him. But it is still somewhat of a guessing game, and sometimes he will put his horse in a maiden claimer and lose it right away only to see that horse go on to become a good money maker.

Once a horse wins his first race, he will be entered against winners in either a claiming race, an allowance race, or in some cases directly into a stakes race.

Horses bred in the same state as the track they are running at are called statebreds, and they often have their own conditions.

For example, here in N.Y. the statebreds have their own maiden special weight class, followed by first and second level N.Y.S.B. allowance races. There are also stakes races that are restricted to N.Y. statebreds.

Of course statebreds are not limited to running against their own kind. They can run against open company at any time also.

Open company allowance races usually range from non-winners of 1 race other than maiden, claiming, or restricted (like statebreds), which I refer to as NW1X, up to NW5X races or higher.

When a horse has won at the NW4X allowance level, he is pretty close to being stakes quality, and will sometimes be placed in a stakes race to see just how good he is.

There are also allowance races for horses that have not won more than a specified number of lifetime races, like NW1L, NW2L, and so on. Allowance races are those in which trainers and owners can run their horses for good purses with no chance of losing them as in the claiming game.

Beyond the NW_X allowance races, there are money allowance races, which have requirements that are spelled out in the description of each such event.

There are ungraded stakes races that have higher purses than allowance races, and of course the actual graded stakes races that range from Grade 3 up to Grade 1, which feature the highest purses, often at the half million dollar and higher level. When a horse has won a Grade 1 race he is considered to be very good.

2 Grade 1 wins gets a horse a lot of attention, and 3 or more Grade 1 wins usually has him referred to as great.

There are some other categories and conditions horses will run in, such as starter's handicaps, in which horses will run with the requirement that they have competed for a certain minimum claiming price within a specified time frame, like the last 12 months. But the majority of races you will come across are the classes I have reviewed.

First of all, believe it or not, officially a filly or mare is not referred to as a horse. Only males are, and they are colts (through 4 years old), geldings (at any age, having had their testes removed to keep their attention on racing) and horses when over 4 years old.

Female runners are called fillies through the age of 4, after which they are referred to as mares. I don't know of any particulars among fillies and mares that would enable one to successfully predict outcomes other than handicapping such races the same way as any others.

And I don't know of a way other than the principles I use to handicap any race how to predict when a filly or mare may be ready to take on and beat the boys. It happens though. We've even had a couple of filly Kentucky Derby winners, but it's a rarity, and not something I would recommend trying to focus on.

Most trainers will not want to run their filly or mare against males. It does happen, but as I say, I know of no method of determining when one will win in such a situation other than when she exhibits strong next-out readiness compared to the unique match up of horses she is facing today.

Equipment, jockey and medication changes are definitely worth noting, but they are not among the traditional methods of handicapping.

Any or all three of these factors can, however have a positive influence on a horse. By the way, I like most people refer to all runners as horses, be they fillies, mares, colts, or geldings.

But how much weight you should place on such changes is anyone's guess. I don't know of any study that has been done on the subject, but I can assure you that equipment change, jockey change, or medication change will not cause a horse to win each and every time, or even most of the time.

When will it? I suppose the best way to look at it is as an enhancement to a horse you have already made a contender. There are occasions, however, when a horse will definitely "wake up" with such changes, having not given any recent clues of strong next out performance in its recent running.

The major equipment change is blinkers, and I do pay attention to this addition. I don't believe the removal of blinkers is as significant as the first time addition, which can often get a horse to pay more attention to the matter at hand.

Blinkers can enable a horse to show more early speed, or have a speed horse that has been fading out of the money hold on stronger. It happens frequently.

Addition of blinkers for horses that have had many races in their career without them is not as significant. When a horse has run 20 or more races without them, I don't expect to see a big improvement when the shades are put on suddenly after all that time.

However, as with most things there are exceptions, and just this past weekend Avanzado took the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita with blinkers added for the first time in his 21-race career.

Jockey changes can be pertinent also, but again, this may account for up to 15% or 20% of why a horse will win. What I look for are changes from a low percentage jockey to a high percentage one.

This is a possible signal that the trainer thinks his horse is ready for a big effort, and it can certainly make me as a player feel more assured that my horse will run his best.

On the other hand, since trainers will bet on their horses when they think they have a great shot, what will such a jockey switch do to the price of the horse if it wins? It could go from $15.00 to $8.00.

The bottom line is that like weight, I don't worry all that much about jockeys. I do believe there is a wide discrepancy with regard to ability, but many are good enough to get a horse to the wire first when that runner indicates strong next-out readiness in his recent past performances.

That being said, if I like 2 horses equally and one has a top jock while the other has an 0-fer 72 guy on his back, I'll go with the former every time.

Medication is a sore point with me. I believe that if it were not for 2 major phenomena present in racing, this would be a game that would be 80% easier to make money at.

The first is track bias, and the other is drugs. The racing industry can't do as much about the first as it can the second, but I'm absolutely convinced that there are trainers at every track in North America that are using illegal drugs in their horses.

Which ones? Simple. Look at their long term winning percentage. If it's in the neighborhood of 22% to 24% or higher, guess what? They are using something that the brain trust of the track cannot detect. But then again, I suppose I shouldn't expect them to. It's only the 3rd year into the 21st century.

There is no such thing as a trainer with a long term winning percentage of over 30%. Unless he or she is using some illegal means. They can't be that much better than the other trainers. Simply can't be.

This is all just my opinion. I obviously cannot accuse any specific trainer because I, like the suits at the track, have no proof in front of me.

The cheating trainers are smart though. And they are brazen too. There is a guy who ships in to N.Y. regularly who wins at about a 50% clip here. Do the authorities at NYRA really, honestly believe that this guy is that much better than the trainers in N.Y.?

Maybe they think he has a knack of obtaining great horses to train. If that were the case, I think he may have a horse now and then in a Triple Crown race or a Breeder's Cup race, but that is not the case.

It baffles me that they can't catch these brazen cheaters, but again, like track biases, this is part of the game, the ugly part.

And believe me, it's not just the small-time trainers. It happens at the top level also.

Maybe the main reason why the racing industry doesn't come up with the ultimate drug detection solution is that they know that they would have to put out of business not only 20% of all the trainers at all the tracks, but some of the big boys too.

You know, like the guy who wins all the Grade 1 races. Again, you would have to believe in Santa Claus to think he is simply that much better of a trainer than everyone else.

Yes, I know you can say that the big money owners go to him with their best horses, but when you are running in Grade 1 races, you're facing the same caliber of horses and also big money owners.

I call lasix the non-performance enhancing drug. In a very sarcastic way, however. This is not the drug of choice of the big time successful cheaters though. That one is still undetectable as of this the 3rd year into Y2K.

Lasix is an anti-bleeding medication that is administered to nearly every horse at the tracks where it is legal. Does that mean that every horse at each of these tracks is a bleeder?

That is supposed to be the case, but no, what it really means is that lasix is indeed a performance enhancer as well as a coagulant, and a horse that goes for the first or second time on lasix can and often does run a much improved effort.

A remarkably stronger performance, much the same as when one of these 24% & above trainers claims a horse, which in its next race or two runs a speed figure 15 points higher than ever before in its life.

Nothing suspicious about that.

I guess 99 percent of people, including the track management, think these guys are just real good at what they do.

I feel the same way, but I feel what they are doing is not being great trainers, simply great deceivers.

The main undetectable illegal drug of choice among cheaters presently is EPO, which is administered a few days before the day of the race.

A detection for this drug was supposed to be in place by the end of July 2002, but due to the usual red tape, as of this writing it still is far from being available.

Part of the controversy is that horses will have to be drug tested on non-racing days, and this upsets parts of the racing community.

Many believe that lasix is nearly universally used because it masks the detection of other drugs, including of course the biggie EPO.

There is another legal drug used mostly on the West Coast, the short name for which is Bute. I don't know a whole lot about this one, but it's still not legal at many if not most racetracks.

I'll get down off the soapbox now. I just thought I would share with you some conclusions I have made after 30+ years of playing the thoroughbreds.

But here's the good news. I wouldn't be still playing if I couldn't make money in spite of the biases and cheaters.

There are great value opportunities each and every week at all the racing circuits in North America.

The subject of the next short email I received will be answered with a race example that involves the topic of class drops.

But before I get to that I want to show you an eerie coincidence that occurred in Race 3 at Gulfstream Park on Monday January 20, 2003, which was the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday.

Check out the results by clicking here.

For those of you who cannot view the results chart due to not having access to Adobe Acrobat Reader, here were the top 3 finishers and the payoffs:

Won: Dancing King, $36.60
2nd: Father Martin, $143.20 exacta
3rd: My Dream, $625.80 trifecta

And the 4th-place finisher was Honorable King.

Pretty wild in my opinion.

Bill F wrote,


How do you handle class moves up or down using Calibration Handicapping?

Here was my answer to Bill.

I'm not one for focusing excessively on "class", but I will mark with an up or down arrow (in red) when a horse is moving up or down in class. In the claiming game class drops can mean different things. It can be a suspicious drop, meaning the horse looks in too good condition to be dropped as he is today, so we may read into it that the horse is sore and the trainer is just trying to unload it.

On other occasions, a drop in claiming price can be significant in a beneficial way. For instance, when you find a play, such as the T/M play or a nice-looking WIR play that hasn't hit the board lately, a drop in company can be a very positive sign for us as players.

We and the trainer both know that the horse could be in for a much improved effort, and since the public isn't aware of that due to camouflaged recent form, a drop in claiming price will help the horse's chances while not affecting the overlay odds on him.

I've heard it said that the biggest drop in thoroughbred racing is from open maiden special weight to maiden claiming.

I can't really argue too much with this assessment, since I've seen many reversals of form on such drops.

Often if there is a maiden claiming race without much recent form evident and there are 1 or 2 horses that have run exclusively in the special weight ranks, either or both of them will perform well, especially if they have shown anything in their past performances, including some early speed or pertinent "moves."

Like I say in Calibration Handicapping, (details of which can be found by clicking here), a Profile or WIR play is enhanced by a drop in class, and obviously any of the "move" horses would be also as long as it's not a suspicious drop.

As an example of suspicious, take the following case from just this past Thursday (January 9, 2003) at Aqueduct. Race 1 was a bottom level claimer for 7 horses going for $10K.

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

This race was made somewhat easier to handicap once the 1A, 4, 5, and 8 horses were late scratches, which reduced the original field of 11 down to only 7.

I'll list the entries in post position order and then indicate the running style I have labeled for each, followed by the last out Beyer speed figure, raw/actual final fraction, and any last out "moves-within-a-race."

2. River Raven P 69 25.1/25.1 ---

3. Point Storm P 74 25.4/25.3 ---

1. Sir Ghost EP 74 25.4/26.2 ---

6. Indian Territory EP 73 25.1/25.1 ---

7. Malinverno P 61 25.1/26.1 ---

9. Heroic Sight S 49 --- ---

10. Honor In Battle S 51 25.1/25.4 ---

If you look at the past performances of this race, you'll see that there were 3 horses dropping in claiming price down to this bottom level claiming race for tags of $10,000.

#3 Point Storm was dropping from $12.5K, having run his last 4 races in the $12.5K to $14K claiming range, finishing 2nd twice and 3rd twice in those events.

Should this $2.5K drop in price be considered suspicious? I believe the answer is no. Here is a horse that shows by his lifetime slate of 32/2-9-8 that he has some difficulty getting his picture taken, but is one that does run well a good percentage of the time.

A drop to the bottom could conceivably be a trainer move that in his mind may just get him across the line first while hopefully not losing him to a claim since he was only in for $2,500 less.

As it turned out, there was one trainer on the grounds, Jeff Odintz, who thought Point Storm was enough of a check getter to claim him, and the horse was indeed lost after the race for $10,000.

Also dropping was #9 Heroic Sight, in his case from $16K. He had run his last 5 races in Maryland, and with such bad last 2 outings could not be considered a contender regardless of the class drop.

But I didn't view this move as anything more than trying to put the horse into a more competitive spot where he may regain some form close to when he won in the slop 3 races prior at Laurel.

The third and final class dropper was #1 Sir Ghost, and his last 4 outings were in claimers with tags of $65K, $35K, $35K, and a last out $20K.

Just 3 races ago he ran 2nd against $35K claimers. Does this drop to the basement claiming level seem suspicious to you?

It sure did to me.

This is an example of a match up that illustrates another phenomenon in horseracing, form cycle.

All thoroughbreds go in and out of form, some for much longer periods than others.

#1 Sir Ghost had run a smooth drop back 5th in his last when in for $20K, and for new owner and trainer in his very next race was dropped in half to $10K. Is that a move of a confident trainer, or one that wreaks of trying to unload a sore horse or one that has gone into his "off form" cycle?

The results show that it was the latter, but no trainer was hoodwinked that day since Sir Ghost was not claimed.

John Q. Public was, however, and I'll admit I have been fooled on occasions like this also. Sir Ghost went to the post as the 3-2 favorite and finished an off the board 4th.

This race also is a good example of final fraction advantage vs. apparent pace advantage.

There was a horse in here that was certainly in good form, having just wired his field on this track, at this 6F distance, at this $10K level, and on a muddy track, which was the case for this race.

#6 Indian Territory also happened to have the best FF of the field, 25.1 (tied with #2), and he was only 1 point away from being a Double Play horse with a Beyer speed figure of 73 vs. 74 for #'s 1 and 3.

But in that last win he ran splits of 23.3 46.4 59.1 and 112.1. How could that stack up to the splits of the race Sir Ghost was exiting, in which he was right up on the lead for a half mile: 22.4 46.2 58.4 and 112.1?

The final times were identical, but all indications were (to those who stress early pace over final fraction) that Indian Territory had very little chance of going coast to coast in this field simply because of the presence of Sir Ghost.

And besides, Sir Ghost was taking the big drop. He was pretty much of a cinch to take this field all the way on top, being on paper the "speed of the speed" getting lasix in a 7 horse field that included 2 stone cold closers from the outside slots.

Or was he?

I never once thought of using Sir Ghost in any of my plays despite him going first time lasix. I had to trust my instinct and the information in the past performances which shouted out that this was a sore animal whose trainer was trying to dump on some unsuspecting outfit.

Indian Territory was the bet for me, especially since he was hovering around 5-1 with about 3 minutes till post. As you can see by the chart, he went right to the top again and wired the field by 2 1/2 lengths, with splits this time of 22.3 45.4 58.0 and 110.3.

When you find a solid speed horse who also possesses the best last out final fraction, he is very often a good bet.

When you locate such a horse that is also 5-1 odds and is facing a false favorite, it's time to take the rubber band off the bankroll.

Lasix or no lasix, this was a bet-against favorite in a race that after 4 late scratches had a standout value play (whether he won this race or finished up the track) in a 7-horse field.

Fortunately he did win and here were the payoffs:

Win: 6, $14.40
2nd: 3, 6-3 ex. $44.20
3rd: 2, 6-3-2 tri. $117.00

Although I normally stick to my own home track in N.Y., on January 1st I noticed that 9-year-old Kona Gold was running in the 5 1/2F Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap at Santa Anita.

Since I thought he was vulnerable, I looked over the race and came up with 2 horses I though could beat him and listed my selections for that race on my Subscriber's Free Picks Page.

My order of preference was Hombre Rapido, Giovannetti, and Kona Gold. When both of my top 2 selections were late scratches, Kona Gold managed to win by a neck paying $4.60.

But since I thought enough of those two to beat the great Kona Gold, I put both Hombre Rapido and Giovannetti in my Stable Alert account so I would be notified when they were scheduled to run next.

I happen to use the free BRIS Stable Alert, and if you're interested in setting one up for yourself, you can click here.

Giovannetti came back and won just 4 days later on January 5th, paying $7.40 with the favorite completing a $17.40 exacta.

The race I'm going to review here is the one in which Hombre Rapido made his next appearance.

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

Here was the field:

1. Komax S 90 Stale --

2. Ride And Shine S 86 22.3/22.0 (T) --

3. Bold Ranger EP 75 Stale --

4. Hombre Rapido E 106 23.4/23.4 D/P

5. Skip To The Stone EP 80 25.2/26.0 Prof.

6. American System EP 93 24.4/24.4

This race had a pace shape of 4 early from 6 runners, a situation that will often favor horses that show a good closing punch.

The reason we can assume this is because if the early horses burn themselves out during the beginning stages of the race, the closers can come on at the end.

In such a pace shape, I will always want to know if there is a dominant speed horse from among all the early runners.

The reason why I liked Hombre Rapido to beat Kona Gold in the El Conejo was his last race, which featured some very nice internal fractions.

In the case of a horse having last raced at the distance of 5 1/2 furlongs, to project a 3rd quarter or final fraction, I will add 6 and 3/5ths seconds to the final time, which in this case would bring Hombre Rapido's final time for 6F to 108.1.

It appears that in his last win he set the Hollywood Park track record for 5 1/2F, and in the process earned this field's best last out Beyer of 106. Notable is the fact that 106 is well below his lifetime best Beyer, which was 112 when winning a 6F event at Santa Anita last January.

So here was a horse that was a Double Play, having the best last out Beyer as well as the best last out final fraction, coming off a very strong effort in his first try following a 6 1/2 month layoff that was really nowhere near his best.

Improvement could be expected. And his wire to wire win in 108.3 confirmed that.

We're not speaking about a $21 horse here; he paid only $5.80 as the 2nd choice, but it's the principles that are important. We will for sure come across overlays that fit as well as this horse did for the same reasons.

The internal splits of Hombre Rapido's return outing were superb. Since he led every step of the way, the splits were set by him, and the published fractions were:

21.4 44.2 55.3 101.3

This meant that he ran the 2nd quarter in 22.3 and the 5th furlong in a very quick 11.1. To put it in perspective, Santa Anita's 5F record is 57.3 and Hombre Rapido ran his last race 5F in 55.3 (after a half in 44.2) and ran an even better figure of 55.2 at Santa Anita in his follow up win on January 12th.

As I guess you know by now, I'm big on internal fractions, and his last race internal splits showed he had run a very big race in his comeback win.

If we project his final time to be 108.1 in that prep race, we can calculate an estimated 3rd quarter of 23.4, which is the best by far other than the 22 flat earned by #2 Ride And Shine, which was accomplished on the grass.

But a close look at Ride And Shine would reveal him to be a contender in here also. The raw FF for the 6 1/2F on the turf was a sharp 22.3. Since he gained nearly 3 lengths from the pace call to the finish, his FF was 22 flat.

If you go back to his prior outing, which was at this 6F trip on dirt, you can see his FF in that one was a strong 23.3 (calculated by subtracting 44.3 from 109.0 = 24.2 and subtracting .4 for gaining 4 lengths from the pace call to the finish.

Add to the fact that Hombre Rapido's and Ride And Shine's final fractions of 23.4 and 22.0 (preceded by 23.3) are standouts in this match up, that Ride And Shine was one of only 2 what I call Red-Scan contenders (the other being stale horse #1 Komax), and their 1-2 finish seemed very logical before the race.

The race itself unfolded just as one would draw it up on paper, with the "speed of the speed" wiring the field while the 2 closers filled out the exacta and trifecta.

Payoffs were:

Win: 4, $5.80
2nd: 2, $2 Ex. 4-2 $57.00
3rd: 1, $2 Tri. 4-2-1 $250.60

For the free selections I post each racing day on my private web page for subscribers to this newsletter, you can bookmark this web page:


Or you can click here.

Until Saturday March 1st, 2003, I wish you Fair Skies and Fast Tracks.