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Handicapping Maidens

Posted by on 11/23/2015 8:04:22 PM

Okay, the year is winding down and most of the big races are already in the books but because of the ‘Apollo Rule’ some of the maidens that are unveiled in the next few weeks could be serious players.

The ‘Apollo Rule’ refers to the only runner that didn’t race at 2 and won the Kentucky Derby. It happened in 1882, so not only is the history there, but it has stood up in the modern era when things have changed in the game.

Since 1937, 59 runners have raced in the Kentucky Derby without racing at 2 including this year when Materiality finished 6th. Three of those 59 ran 2nd, 4 ran third but there are zero winners during that span.

One of the days to circle is the opening day at Santa Anita this year on December 26. Traditionally, there will be a 2-year-old race carded that entices a plethora of well-bred youngsters with the pedigrees to excel and often this race is very productive.

Look at any race card in America on any given day and maiden races will fill many of the events. For most players they have to delve into the crystal ball for horses that have yet to win.

This is not an easy thing to do but there are some guidelines for wagering on unproven runners.

First off, think of it this way. If a horse has shown just an inkling of talent in the a.m., would his connections offer him for sale the first time out of the block?

The obvious answer is probably not.

Hence, to win at first asking for a maiden claiming may intrinsically be a bit tougher than for runners in Maiden Special Weight land.

One thing to look for is the stud fee as compared to the purchase price of a runner. If runner costs say 5 or 6 times more than the stud fee, it indicates the runner is a good looker or has shown an inkling of speed.

Even horses that are well-bred, runners in MSW fields, are not always asked for the 100% primed effort to kick it off. The late great Charlie Whittingham was one of the greatest trainers ever to saddle a horse, and he almost never had live runners in the debut.

If a Whittingham horse did win first time out, it was either by accident, he got away from the rider, usually Bill Shoemaker, or he was just talented enough to win on his own.

Just because a horse trains fast, doesn’t always mean he will run fast. Some trainers just let their horses roll in the mornings and a best of the morning work may not mean all that much.

Conversely, when a player sees a runner train fast from a barn that is very conservative in the mornings, then the light should go on quickly.

Bob Hess Jr . and Bill Spawr come to mind out West. Neither trainer asked for speed much in the a.m. so if runners from these barns train quickly, that could be a tell tale sign.

And Jerry Hollendorfer, who is great with all kinds of runners, works his horses often rather than fast. If one from his barn is sizzling in the mornings, pay attention.

In the last 5 years, Hollendorfer has hit with 24% of his debuting Maiden Special Weight runners but he has been awesome with his debuting maiden claimers hitting at a sensational 40%.

Bob Baffert and guys like Neil French always put their runners through the ringer in the mornings and expect fast works from these outfits.

One of the biggest drops in the sport, if not the absolute biggest, is when a horse goes from MSW company to a maiden claimer. It’s kind of like one day shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and then the next hour you are at Walmart with a free $1,000 shopping spree planned.

It’s always kind of a guessing game when a horse takes this kind of drop. Is it because the runner just has no talent and the connections are trying to get rid of the horse or is this where he has belonged all the time?

One way to clear up that issue is by using a bit of common sense. Say a runner cost upwards of $200,000 and he is entered in a MSW first out and runs middle of the pack or worse.

The next time he entered in a $25,000 maiden claiming and the red flag is immediately raised high and wide from everybody to see.

This just seems like a very quick give up to toss in the towel on a runner and take a $175,000 loss on paper after only one start.

Another reason why you have to tread lightly sometimes with maidens is because they are usually young, developing rapidly and subject to improvement almost over night.

When a smallish barn drops a horse from a MSW to a maiden claiming it’s time to take note. The trainer doesn’t have a lot of bullets in the gun in the first place so he has to make every shot count.



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