First or Second Time Out? A Good Trainer Knows the Answer

 By Art Parker

 The best horse players pay attention to trainers, at least to a small degree. Some players look beyond the initial statistics and general information. Some, like me, try to keep up with a great deal of information looking for an edge.

If you sit around the table with your buddies at the track discussing the next race someone is going to say something like, “Yeah, and this guy does pretty good with his layoff horses,” or something along those lines. 

A response you may hear to that statement may sound like this. “That’s right, and he wins at a 14% rate with those types.” If you listen to the conversation you would first hear a broad general statement and then one validating it by a specific claim. But, is there more to it?


Good trainers that excel at certain types of races make plans to win; they don’t just fill out entry slips and hope for the best.

Let’s examine one of the frequently discussed categories of trainer performance – debut runners. Unless you are equipped with a great deal of information, and you get what can be confirmed as a true overlay, these races probably deserve a pass. I must admit that the intrigue is something that makes horse racing the great game that it is and the strong desire to figure out a tough race with several firsters (career debut runners) is something to be admired. That’s right, admired. I salute anyone who will read and study hard to figure out an impossible race as opposed to the mindless man who sits and pulls the handle of a slot machine.

It is more than knowing a certain trainer scores with debut runners more often than his competition. The questions are how and when does he do it?

Trainer Reade Baker

Trainer Reade Baker

Let’s take a very good veteran trainer like Reade Baker at Woodbine. Here is some raw data on Baker, according to my unofficial stats: In the last three years at Woodbine he has notched 189 wins and 23 of those were first time starters. At the end of the 2011 Woodbine meeting, Baker, (according to BRIS) had a win rate of 10% when he sends a rookie to the gate. Better horse players are pretty much limited with that information I have just given you, but they have an advantage over others with it. But when can we feel even more confident about betting this trainer (or others) when he has a debut runner?

The first thing is to distinguish his runners by age. Of Baker’s 23 debut wins in that time frame, 16 of them were two year olds. That’s a big piece of information because the babies are not running the first couple of months of the season and, the number of two year old races doesn’t significantly increase until August or September. Baker is an outstanding trainer, but he doesn’t set the woods on fire with firsters age three and older.

Okay, now you have Baker on your mind when the two year olds start showing up at the gate. Is this all you need? Most guys will say yes, but the answer is no.

Baker’s training pattern varies little with a debut 2 year old winner. Almost always, these victories are preceded with the last several workouts (usually the last 4-5) taking place 6 to 7 days apart with the last work coming 5 to 7 days before the race day. And, you can expect a minimum of two gate works in the last 4 to 5 workouts.

Good trainers that excel at certain types of races make plans to win; they don’t just fill out entry slips and hope for the best. A trainer like Baker will have a pretty good idea when his trainee should be ready. He gets condition books well in advance and makes a plan to run. That is one reason the days of training are important; it is all part of the plan. Good trainers do this. Bad trainers do not. 

Oh, there’s a little more. Almost half of Baker’s 2 year old debut winners were owned by the Bear Stables. And, all but a pair of the Bear Stables’ debut winners wore blinkers. The utilization of blinkers on Bear Stable runners is far more prevalent than on all other Baker horses in the same category. That tells me that the Bear Stables are expecting quick results to recover their investment in livestock, and it tells me that Baker wants to make sure those runners pay attention, and they are more likely to show early speed.   

Unfortunately, most players approach second time starters with less intensity than debut runners. Wouldn’t it make sense to know a trainer’s winning move when his horse goes to the gate a second time, especially if the horse did not win his debut outing? It makes sense to me. In fact this is a category that gets ignored a great deal by players and those that provide information. There’s plenty of winning tickets to be cashed on second timers and we need to look no further than our Canadian trainer. Baker visited the winner’s circle in the last 3 years with 19 second timers. Of Baker’s 189 wins in 3 years, 42 of those came from horses in their first or second career start.

But here is the key to Baker’s second time starters…only one was a repeat winner. If you look at Baker’s second timers you want to focus on those that lost in their debut effort. The training pattern is pretty much the same with workouts spaced 6 to 7 days apart. Almost always, Baker returns to the gate with his second timer 20 to 30 days after the initial race. Baker usually keeps his runners in the same class for their second outing. If he doesn’t win the first time out, then he evaluates the performance and starts the process to win the next time.

I’ve never met or talked to trainer Reade Baker and probably never will. I can say the same for hundreds of horsemen that I follow. If you look deeper into past performances and charts, you can start to see things that 99.9% of the players never see. Yes, it takes some time and dedication. But, it is critical for a player to gain an advantage somewhere in the handicapping game.

Keeping up with trainers at your favorite tracks will help you get an advantage, plus it makes the game a lot more fun. We have the opportunity to find and develop our skills as horse players and taking advantage of that opportunity can give you an advantage…something that poor mindless fool at the slot machine will never have.

-Art Parker is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns” published by All Star Press.

First Things First – Part II

Understanding Race Conditions

by Rich Nilsen

As we discussed briefly last week, the first thing a handicapper should do when looking at a race is to analyze the “conditions” at the top of the past performances or program page. The understanding of race conditions and their importance is a basic handicapping principle that is overlooked by many horseplayers every day. What follows may be too basic for the experienced handicapper, but if reading the conditions of the race is not your first step before handicapping, then you will be well advised to read on.

There are two types of races for horses which have never won: maiden special weight races and maiden claimers. In maiden special weight races (MDSPWT) the runners are not eligible to be claimed, whereas in maiden claimers the horse is “for sale” at the listed claiming price. Not much buying goes on in maiden claiming races, since most horses are not usually worth the asking price. In other words, the horses are usually running at inflated prices. Generally speaking, the winner of a maiden claiming event, i.e. Mdcl $20,000 usually ends up competing at half that price in “open claimers”, $10,000 for example.

It is this reason that a maiden graduate at $20,000 will rarely repeat in its next start for a claiming price of $20,000. In addition, many experienced handicappers will not play a first time starter in a maiden claimer since it indicates a lack of confidence from the owner and trainer. One of the lowest percentage wagers in all of racing is a debut runner in a maiden claiming event.

Some maiden claiming winners and almost all maiden special weight winners will move on to the next condition – the allowance race for “non-winners of two races lifetime” (NW2). In allowance races the horse can not be claimed.

Race conditions header horse racing

The other entry-level allowance race is for “non-winners of one race other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW1X). There is a big difference between these two allowance conditions, and many people overlook the significance. When a runner drops from a NW1X race to a NW2 allowance affair, take notice. This runner will likely be meeting easier competition because of the way the conditions are written. For example, a claimer with 15 lifetime wins, all in claiming races, is eligible to run in a NW1X allowance race but not a NW2 race. Inexperience is a big factor in any sporting event, so a horse with only one lifetime win is at a disadvantage against horses that have visited the winner’s circle many times, even if those wins came against claimers.

After a horse wins the first allowance condition, they must run in a race for “non-winners of two races other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW2X). Some racetracks write races for non-winners of three races lifetime (NW3L), so this would be the easiest step up for the winner of a NW2 race. If a runner is able to succeed at either of these two levels, then non-winners of three races other than (NW3X) is the next step, or a non-winners of four races lifetime at some tracks (NW4L). A very small percentage of the racehorse population makes it to this level due to the difficulty of the competition.

The final step before stakes competition is either “open allowance” races with no conditions, or allowance races limited to earners of a certain amount of money since a particular date (NW$). Some tracks also write races for “non-winners of two races other than…in 2012” (NW2Y). There are various ways that these races can be written, but it is important to note that they are the most difficult races to win, with the exception of stakes.

Non-winners of two races lifetime is not only written for allowance races, but also for claimers at many tracks. This is also important to understand, because there is a big difference between a $15,000 claimer for non-winners of two races lifetime and a $15,000 open claimer. A hardknocking horse in the latter race will have little trouble beating a horse running at the conditioned level. As with maiden claiming victors, winners of conditioned claimers (NW2) often have to compete for roughly half the claiming level to succeed against open claimers.

With any of these race conditions, it can be helpful to note the number of attempts a runner has made at a certain level. If a horse has tried a certain type of race more than five times, he will likely need a drop to a lower level in order to win. For example, a runner who has faced NW2 allowance competition six or seven times without winning will need a drop to claiming competition limited to NW2 in order to win. A proven loser at a certain level is a poor bet and must be avoided by both the professional bettor and the casual racegoer.

Analyzing the race conditions should be the first thing that all horseplayers do when they first handicap a race. The race conditions dictate which runners are best suited to the type of race. Horse racing is a big money game and race conditions drive the decisions of track officials, jockey agents, and racehorse trainers. If you overlook the importance of the race conditions, one thing is for sure, you will be left at the gate come post time.


Handicapping 101: First Things First

The first thing a handicapper should do when starting to look at a race is to read the race conditions at the top of the past performances. The race conditions details what type of race this is and what type of runners are eligible to compete in the spot. The conditions will also list the distance and surface, which are critical factors in the handicapping process.

Race conditions for the Belmont Stakes

For example the race conditions may tell us that this is a  $10,000 claiming race, which means any horse in the race can be purchased for that sum. We then learn that the race is contested at one mile (eight furlongs) on the dirt.  As we read more into the conditions summary, we learn that this claiming race is restricted to three year olds and non-winners of three races lifetime. Therefore, a horse with only one lifetime win does not fit as well into the conditions as a horse with two lifetime wins. The former should be running in a race restricted to non-winners of two races lifetime. This type of structure is critical in the racing game, and handicappers should not overlook it.

The bottom line is that some runners are better placed in their proper conditions than other horses. You want to quickly weed out the horses that have been “ambitiously spotted” by their stable, most likely by connections (owner and trainer) that don’t win very often.

There are numerous types of races, which are complicated by various distances and surfaces. We’ll go into more detail on the different racetypes in future articles here at

Check out our Handicapping 101 Articles at