If You Were the Trainer…What Would You Do?

By Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

It is early afternoon on August 20. You have a horse in the barn that appears to be ready for a top effort. You take out the condition book and look at upcoming races. On August 24 there is a claiming race for $12,500 at six furlongs. The purse is $26,000. But you know your horse is better than that and even though he may win he will probably get claimed and you want to avoid that. Not only is your gelding better than the $12,500 claiming tag, the owner will shoot you if you lose his horse at that price.

Tampa paddock inspectionLet’s see, what else is available? There is a race for a $40,000 price tag on August 25 with a hefty $51,000 purse. That looks inviting but your guy finished second in a photo for a $25,000 claiming price last out. This race may be too tough. At that level you always catch some of those tough allowance types looking for an easy score.

There it is; a race for $25,000 on August 31. Maybe a half-mile work in a few days and he will be ready. Oops. That race is a mile and your horse is a pure sprinter best at either 6 furlongs or maybe 6 ½ furlongs.

He hates the grass so those few turf sprints are out of the question. Well, the only thing left is a race on September 8 with a claiming price of $20,000. The purse is $31,000. He is really worth a little more than $20,000, but you just don’t have any more options.

So, what would you do if you trained this horse?

This is what a trainer faces nearly every day. The overwhelming majority of the betting public has no idea about this part of racing. They do not know what a condition book is. Have you ever sat around the track with some guys and they just cannot figure out why a horse runs for $20,000 this time since he ran well for $30,000 just a couple of weeks ago, or why a horse is jumping in price for no reason?

One of the things a good trainer does is find the right race for his horse… the best he can. It is almost impossible for a trainer to find exactly what his horse needs with any regularity. The reason is a track may have 1,200 head in the stable area and that translates into 1,200 needs. A racing secretary has the tough job of writing races that will accommodate the most horses as frequently as possible. Trainers must be flexible with their race selections and the training of their runners. It is not an easy job especially when you have a bunch of owners that never want to lose a race and constantly complain about the cost of keeping a horse in training.

Next time you look at past performances start to envision why a horse ran in each of his races. If you do this several times you may find yourself able to understand why trainers do the things they do. The sooner you can understand what trainers do, the sooner you escalate the probability of winning at the races.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-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 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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