A Method for Attacking Races with Lightly Raced Horses

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Handicapper Kelzenberg Tonyby Tony Kelzenberg, aka The Flat Bet Prophet

Not everyone likes betting on lightly raced horses in maidens or allowance races. These types of races have few horses with starts under them (in fact many races are filled with First Time Starters – a.k.a. FTS), and evaluating pedigrees of race horses can confound experienced players, much less the novice fan. Despite these challenges, I can attest I do very well playing lightly raced horses every year. I have a basic method that combines QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE analysis of experienced runners and FTS.

 

Lightly raced runners – QUANTITATIVE FACTORS
(1) Trainer stats – some trainers are very successful winning with a FTS. Winning trainers will have developed a “winning pattern” to get their horses ready to win.  Most data services in the States will provide this information to punters.  A guideline I use is a trainer that can win with 14% of his FTS is a solid threat to win with a FTS in today’s race.

(2) Pedigree information – I uses Brisnet.com’s Ultimate Past Performances, and they are really effective at identifying which horses have a pedigree to “win early” in their first or second start. Using Brisnet.com’s data I can identify if a sire (father of the runner) and damsire (father of the MOTHER of the runner) both produce 14% winners or more from FTS. The higher a sire’s percentage of winners from FTS, the more likely the combination produces a quick firster. Another stat I look at is the dam (mother of the runner). If a dam has produced 50% or greater 2yo winners from 2yo starters that also implies today’s runner could be quick. Lastly, a good rule of thumb for “win early” breeding is look for a sire and damsire that both had sprinter/miler speed when they raced

2YO RACES – QUALITATIVE FACTORS

(1) Workout Pattern – To me, workout pattern of any lightly-raced runner is the key to determining the type of runner a horse is (early speed, mid-pack, or back marker), and how fit the horse in question really is.  I look at the initial work first, to see if the horse “breezed” well.  Usually a North American-trained horse makes his first breeze at three furlongs.  I want to see a decent time. A good initial breeze would be 36 3/5 or faster, but 37 1/5 would be OK. This demonstrates that the FTS has some talent. Then, the FTS should work every 6 to 7 days, leading up to race day with NO BREAKS in its work tab.  If there is a break in the work tab either the horse may be lacking in fitness or may have had a training mishap.  Lastly, I want to see some 4 furlong works in 48 seconds or faster works mixed in with some 5 furlong works for stamina.  I consider it a strong negative if a horse shows ONLY fast workouts.  Very often, these horses are hard to control and they “pull” against the exercise rider in the mornings, and it is likely they will do the same thing in the afternoons.  Ironically, these types of runners take a lot of public money, because they are “fast!”  But alas, most likely too fast to last, it seems.

There was the workout pattern for a nice 5/1 FTS winner named Anusara who won a $50,000 Maiden Claimer (all horses were up for sale from $45,000 to $50,000) going 1300m in Race 8 on May 19, 2013 at Churchill Downs.  The purse was $25,701 (maiden races where there is no claiming price run for a much higher purse – $50,000).   Anusara won by 5 and ¼ lengths.

Feb 27       3 furlongs   38.0 seconds (first career work)

Mar 7        3f             36.8 sec (Note the quick second breeze)

Mar 17       3f             36.0 sec (even faster)

Mar 26       4f             48.4 sec (very nice)

Apr 8         4f             49.6 sec (stamina work)

Apr 22       5f             62.6 sec (stamina work)

May 1        4f             48.6 sec (work out of the gate)

May 10      4f             48.0 sec (best speed work yet – also out of the gate)

In North America the Form has to include every work for lightly raced horses.  In the “olden days,” the Form only included a horse’s last four works, which would be incomplete, at best.  It is easy to see that reviewing the Anusara’s work pattern, from the START of the workout cycle, indicated she was ready to win and was a must use in the exotics.  5/1 on this kind of horse is OK, but I was able to bet some exotics that hit after Anusara won her race.  I should add that Anusara’s works were not every 6 or 7 days, so this would not be ideal.  Note Anusara was entered against claiming maidens, so it might be inferred that she needed those extra days to recover between works and/or may have some soundness issues.

The same day, I used a three year old filly, a once-raced runner named Intelyhente, who last ran November 24, 2012 at CD on the grass, showing some early dash before being beaten by 12 lengths.  Not a very auspicious debut.  The level was straight maidens – a $50,000 purse.  The pedigree was good for grass (Smart Strike out of a Boundary mare) and the price was right (8/1 on the morning line and 6/1 when she won by going “over the top”).  The race distance was 1800m.  Here was her workout pattern:

Apr 7         4f             50.0 sec (first work back)

Apr 13       4f             49.2 sec (stamina work)

Apr 20       5f             63.4 sec (stamina work)

Apr 27       4f             48.6 sec (speed work)

May 4        4f             48.0 sec (speed work)

May 14      5f             60.2 sec (speed work)

Most of the works were EXACTLY seven days apart, meaning everything was going to plan and she was fit and well.  The speed works put some speed into her.

 (2) Sales Prices – generally yearling sales prices are meaningless in trying to predict success in sprint baby races, so I would submit not using yearling prices as a benchmark. I can recall a 2yo MSW at Saratoga a few years ago where a $50,000 yearling THRASHED a $250,000 yearling. 2 year old buys, on the other hand, are extremely dangerous. Why? Because 2yo buys have another 6 to 8 months to develop, they are thoroughly vetted, and they have to work out under a STOPWATCH. Expensive 2 year old buys ($250,000 and up) almost always can run. Cheaper 2 year old buys ($50,000 to $245,000) often times can be overlooked at the windows and should be considered live animals.

(3) Number of starts – Horses that don’t break their maidens by their third start are huge under performers at the windows. They often tend to lose by narrow margins, so their odds will be low, but it is my experience you are better off with a horse making its first or second start than betting on a potential “career maiden.”

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 12-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He recently won a $24,000 package into the 2016 Kentucky Derby Betting Championship. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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