How to Quickly and Easily Identify the “Sucker” Horse – Part III

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Beware the Class Drop that Doesn’t Make Sense

by Rich Nilsen

Owning and managing race horses is much like any other business.  You are always looking to capitalize on favorable situations and increase revenue when the opportunity presents itself.  When a racing stable has a sharp racehorse, they look to take advantage.  A horse that just won impressively at the $25,000 claiming level, for example, should usually be stepped to $35,000 where he can compete for a higher purse and stay “protected.”  A stable does not want to lose a horse that is potentially worth $30-35,000 for anything less than that.  Unless, of course, there is  a reason back at the barn that we, the handicappers, don’t know about.

This is exactly what transpired in the last race of the 2014 Saratoga meeting.  Shankopotamos had not just won for $25,000 but he also beat a key race field in the process.  He did so in fast time, from start to finish, and earned an 88 BRIS Speed Rating.  Both the second and third place finishers returned to win their next outing, including a horse named Street Shark that my friend Steve Harner owns in partnership.  Street Shark returned to ROMP in a very tough $58,000 race only a few days before at odds of 9-1.

Shankopotamus PPs smaller

2014 copyright Bloodstock Research Information Services and Equibase

Shankopotamus was being dropped into a $16,000 claimer, bottom of the barrel for Saratoga, despite his last solid performance at the $25,000 level.  Now some could argue that the current connections had claimed him for $12,500 in June and so they were “out” on the horse and, thus, not at risk of losing money.  That’s true, but that is not how a smart stable operates.  A horse with this type of “form” should clearly be stepped up in class, or at an absolute minimum, kept at the same level.  Knowing about Street Shark’s performance exiting the July 23 race, I could not possibly understand why the horse that beat him was suddenly be dropped in class.

Dropping the six-year-old gelding in for only $16,000 was a huge red flag.  Shankopotamus layed over this field … assuming he was 100 percent, or close to it.

But Shankopotamus wasn’t 100 percent, not even close. A mature gelding, competing at the claiming level, should have lots of races during the course of the year.  Shankopotamus had only raced six times in 2014, another huge red flag that all was not well back at the barn.

You don’t have to have owned horses like I did for 10 years to smell a rat.  If you owned Shankopotamus, who had just stepped way up in class off the claim and won over a strong field, would you risk him for only $16,000? Would you do that just to try to win a race at Saratoga, when you had already won a race there?  Would you do that when there were plenty of opportunities within the next week or so at Belmont Park?   The answer to every question is “of course not.”

Shankopotamus barely made it to the far turn when he pulled up at odds of 7/5.  He walked off the track OK for new trainer Gary Sciacca.  Interestingly, leading claiming trainers Rudy Rodriguez and David Jacobson (who previously trained Shankopotamus) made claims in this race … but on runners not named Shankopotamus.

Did you Miss?

Part I of How to Quickly and Easily Identify the “Sucker” Horse

Part II of How to Quickly and Easily Identify the “Sucker” Horse

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 16-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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