Handicapping Tip of the Day #42 – Beware the Triple Drop

by Rich Nilsen

On opening day at Del Mar racetrack (July 19, 2017) top local trainer and crafty claiming horseman Peter Miller entered the 6yo gelding, Belisarius (Ire), in a $16,000 claiming race going one mile on the dirt.  On the ‘surface’ the winner of $174,659 lifetime looked like a major player. Although all his wins were on the grass (and this was on the dirt), Belisarius was making his third start off the layoff, getting a switch to a high percentage jockey, and was getting a sharp drop in class. At morning line odds of 8-1, he looked juicy … at first glance.

However, handicappers are always warned to look beyond the first glance.  With a closer look, one could see that Miller had dropped this runner in class three consecutive times since he had been moved into his barn from that of Hall of Famer Bill Mott.  His first start for Miller was an also-ran effort in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. He then returned off a layoff, dropping sharply in class to an optional claimer, two other than.  He ran dead last in the field of six, beaten nearly 16 lengths.

He then received an sharp drop in class to a $35,000 claimer for non-winners of three races lifetime.  Off at 6-1, he defeated two horses.  So, let’s try another drop in class and a surface switch. Red flags don’t come any bigger.  Miller was desperately trying to find a spot where the once-sound horse could be competitive.  We don’t know why, but some reason this horse had soured on racing.

race horse from Peter Miller










Bet down to odds of 6.10 to 1, Belisarius was never competitive en route to a fifth place finish.   Miller wasn’t done yet with the class drops.  On August 5, he ran for $8,000 at Del Mar and finished a non-competitive sixth.

Class drops are not always positive, especially when it is a series of consecutive class drops that do not result in improved performances.

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