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The Claim Game

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 6/9/2010 2:59:38 PM

Everybody gets pumped up during the Triple Crown but if you want to make winning bets and get ahead in this sport, you have to have a good gauge of how to handle claimers.

Face it, champions are few and far between and to win money at the track, a player must understand how to evaluate the lower-echelon horses.

When I first started handicapping, I would practice by making my selections on paper for tracks like Charles Town, Liberty Bell, and Penn National and then monitor the results. Claimers dominated the programs there then and still do.

Claimers account for about 75% of the racing cards throughout the country. Since they are not as sound as the better horses, they hold their form for a shorter period of time and are less formful as a whole.

Early speed, as with top-notch horses, is tantamount to being successful. In the olden days, handicapping books would advise to bet only claimers with recent activity, say horses that have run within a couple of weeks or so. But in this day and age, things have changes.

Horses, cheap ones at that, can win off the layoff and they do it all the time. In fact, cheap horses often fire their best shot first time out after a layoff. They are not tired from the racing grind, they are mentally sharp and whatever was ailing them and forced them to the sidelines may have abated and they are generally in better physical condition when they return.

Bettors love horses that drop. It makes all the sense in the world but horses that drop seldom offer good value at the windows. Players assume since at one time they were capable of performing at a certain level, that when taking a big drop down the claiming ladder they will even be more effective. It works sometimes, but not always and the payoffs are usually on the small side.

I have found that one of the best and most lucrative situations occurs when a sharp trainer jumps his claimer up the ladder. It tells the bettor that the trainer thinks the horse is doing so well that he can stand the raise.

In Southern California these days, there are the conditioners that deal with blue bloods and there are the guys that keep it together by playing equine poker at the claim box.

Just take a look at the current Hollywood Park standings. Doug O’Neill does it with numbers and was winning at a 15% clip after 100 starters but 30 others were in the money. 

There were some relative ‘little’ guys that were flat-out rolling.

Bill Spawr is a master with cheaper stock and he watched 4 of his first 7 starters hit the exacta.

Ral Ayers is the former assistant to Jeff Mullins and has watched 5 of his 23 runners cash.

Underrated trainer Janet Armstrong is far from a household name but she can train. Her first 5 starters of the meet were in the money and 2 were greeted in the charmed circle.

William E. Morey, who plied his trade most of his career in Northern California, won with 4 of his first 8 starters, three others ran third and he lives and dies with the cheaper stock.

There are many ways to approach claimers and the game as a whole but if you know the players who pull the strings, you have a head start on the field.

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