Handicapping Tip of the Day #24 – Claiming Jail

Handicapping Tip of the Day – Understanding the Claiming Business

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By Art Parker

The most common race in North America is the claiming race. Without these horses we call “claimers” most every track could not fill a race card. Probably 80 percent of all our races are claiming events, whereby an entrant can be ‘claimed’ from the race for the stated purchase price by a party eligible to make a claim. The idea of claiming is to provide parity. If you own a horse that is truly worth $50,000 then you will think long and hard about entering that horse in a claiming race of only $25,000. The drop in in claiming price may make for an easy score with purse money but you may also lose an asset for a fraction of its value. One must understand the business of horse racing before they can understand the world of claiming races.

One of the most important things to remember about claiming races is the ‘jail time.’ While the rules vary from state to state, a claimed horse cannot run for the same or lesser claiming value within 30 days after being claimed. This is called “in jail” because the horse cannot run for a lower price until that horse is out of jail. In some states the horse cannot be removed from the state during the jail time, and in some states, the horse cannot run anywhere else until the end of the meeting. To be proficient at handicapping claiming races one needs to be up to date on the various rules in the various states.

When handicapping claiming races it is well worth the time to look at the horses from a business standpoint and play the game as an owner or trainer. Profitable revelations will often come to light when a business examination is made of the entrants in a claiming race.

The Basics of Claiming

King's Swan claimer

Former claimer King’s Swan, copyright Agameofskill.com

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

The overwhelming majority of races in the United States are claiming races. The name fits the type of race well because the participants of a claiming race can be claimed, or purchased, by one with proper license in the state of the race, such a thoroughbred owner. The purchaser pays the claiming price as stated in the conditions of the race. For example, race conditions may say something like, “For 3 year olds, weight 126 pounds. Claiming $10,000.” The purchaser in this case pays $10,000 for the horse he or she “claims” before the race is run.

The procedure may vary slightly from state to state, but basically a horse gets claimed when the purchaser completes a claim slip, usually within a stated time frame (such as 15 minutes) prior to the running of the race. The purchaser must be properly licensed, have a horseman’s account at the track and have enough money in his/her account to pay the claiming price.

If the horse leaves the gate as an official starter then the horse will become the property of the new owner at the conclusion of the race. The new owner does not receive any purse money the horse may earn in the race. When the race is over the claimed horse is tagged by a racing official and led to its new barn.

Claiming races help to assure fairness at the entry box and as a result, reasonable competition. In other words, all owners/trainers want to have a race with lesser competition, but the claiming price will often serve as a deterrent to “bringing in the ringer” to beat up on a weak field.

Many years ago a trainer was discussing one of his horses with me. The horse had been running for a $25,000 claiming price and just missed victory in a couple of races. The trainer was trying to find a little softer spot. He told me he considered dropping his horse down to a $15,000 level, but said, “I will probably lose him at $15,000 because he is worth $25,000.” The key point to remember about a claiming race is that everyone that enters a horse in the race is putting their horse up for sale.

The purse money in claiming races increases with the claiming price. Simply put, a horse that runs for a $50,000 price tag will compete for more purse money than a horse that runs in a $10,000 claiming race. The owner/trainer of a horse must consider two financial sums when it comes to claiming races: (1) claiming price and (2) purse money.

Understanding the claiming game is essential when handicapping races. It is important that the handicapper view racing from the business angle and not just the gambling angle. A horse on paper that is dropping in class may look like a world beater on paper, but the question we must ask is: why is the owner and trainer ready to sell the horse for a smaller price? A drop in claiming price often means a drop in quality and that can correlate with a decline in the health of the horse.

To improve your handicapping take the time to study horses that have been claimed and what happened for 6-12 months after they were purchased at the claiming box. And, if you really want to cash some tickets, keep notes on trainers that claim horses. You will find that claiming is like any other business – there are some trainers that excel and some that fail, and it is good to know who is who.

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

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

Linebacker named AGameofSkill.com’s Claimer of the Week

Claimer of the Week at AGameofSkill.comCapturing his second straight victory, Linebacker completed a very successful 2011 campaign with an impressive win at Parx Saturday afternoon. It was the fifth win of the year for the Guadalupe Preciado trainee. The 5 year old gelding has won 5 races this year with a pair of wins coming at Parx, while notching other victories at Monmouth, Delaware and Penn National. In Saturday’s race the 2-turn specialist stalked a slow running pacesetter and seized the lead at the quarter pole. When asked for his best by veteran rider Jose Flores, Linebacker responded very well and proved much the best in the $25,000 event at a mile. Linebacker paid a whopping $17.40 top win while competing in a very small field. Sired by Yonaguska, Linebacker has won 10 times from 41 career starts and finished in the money 23 times. He is owned by B-c Stables and his career earnings are approaching $300,000. Linebacker cost $45,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September sale. With the NFL playoffs about to start, the appropriately-named Linebacker is AGameofSkill.com’s Claimer of the Week.

— Art Parker