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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
#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
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
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
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
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
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
Giovannetti came back and won just 4 days later on January
5th, paying $7.40 with the favorite completing a $17.40
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
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
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
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
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.
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.