by Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”
Now is the time of year to pay attention to maidens, particularly what we all call the First Time Starter (FTS). It doesn’t mean you bet on them, necessarily. It is a great time to observe them especially when they become Second Time Starters (STS). The majority of unraced horses are no longer two years old. Those two year olds remind me of human teenagers; young, stupid and unpredictable. The bottom line is that more unraced horses now have enough maturity to start racing and a poor performance is not totally attributable to youth.
The overwhelming majority of those in the FTS category fall into the STS category because only a limited number of horses can win, obviously. But those that move into the STS category often have excuses due to a bad trip in their first race. If you in any way depend upon trip handicapping or believe that horses can have excuses, then these races are the ones where you have pad and pencil ready. For the next few months there will be tons of maiden races that will yield great trip information that is invaluable.
A long time ago a coach told my football team not to underestimate our opponent in the second week of the season. “Most improvement in competitors comes between their first and second games,” he said. I believe it is true in horse racing, or at least the opportunity for the most improvement is between the first and second races of a runner’s career.
If you accept the premise that the second race may demonstrate the best improvement and a horse had a rough trip in his/her first race, then you are well on your way to cashing a ticket. Maybe.
After you made the trip notes and you feel sure that a horse is going to improve then you must look in the other notes to find the icing for the cake. The other notes tell you if the trainer is good with those we call STS, and if they are, what is their normal plan of attack?
Last week I decided to rummage through all of my Keeneland files looking for those trainers good with the STS. The following very recognizable and successful names have enjoyed multiple winners with STS at Keeneland over the last few years: Rusty Arnold, Wayne Catalano, Al Stall, Jr., Eddie Kenneally, Ken McPeek, Graham Motion, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans, Tom Proctor and Mike Stidham. I would be proud to have any of these guys train for me. But most important is understanding how these guys do it. What are the patterns to their winning second time starters?
All but two wins from all of these trainers with STS at Keeneland came after the horse was off for at least 25 days. Many of these did not run after their debut effort for at least 35-40 days. In other words, they did not rush their horses back to the track. I couldn’t help but jump in to my Woodbine file to check out the trainer, who in my opinion, is the best STS trainer in the business-Reade Baker. I noticed the same patience is exercised by Baker.
While each horse may be different, the best trainers regardless of their record with FTS, must obviously take the time to analyze, plan and determine the very best course of action with great patience for STS. An awful lot can be learned from a horse in its first race even if the trip is a clean one.
Now let’s put it all together. A FTS has a difficult trip and you have it noted, waiting for a possible play when he/she comes back. You know it is worth the note because the trainer has a good record with STS. Also, the trainer does not rush his horses. When the day comes you make sure it all adds up. And if it does, well then you have the makings of a good spot play.
And when you cash a ticket after all of this, you realize that the practice of handicapping can be worthwhile…and is a skill-based game.Click here for reuse options!
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