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Track Tracts

Maiden Claiming Frontrunners
by Gordon Pine

As a handicapper, it�s crucial to break down all the available races into different subcategories before handicapping. I�ve dwelled on the importance of looking at each meet, each track condition, even certain periods of time (causal phases, which I�ll discuss in the future) separately. The reason? Because there are different predictors at work in each situation.

Another way to categorize a race is by its class. One class of race that separates easily from all others is maiden claimers. While unattractive as a source of future breeding stock, these races can be very appealing to the handicapper and bettor. Why? Because there is often only one or two horses surrounded by mules. Because the field size of maiden claimers tends to be larger, which inflates the payoffs. And because, despite popular belief, the predictors tend to be more stable. The same handicapping factors tend to be decisive in most maiden claimers.

What is the most important predictor in maiden claiming races? In a sample of 15,642 maiden claiming races over a three-year period, the predictor that worked the best (had an A/E of 1.20 or more) at the most tracks was projected second call � in other words, my projection of who would be leading at the second call of the upcoming race. The top projected horse at the second call won 3604 times out of 15,642 races, for a win rate of 23% and an ROI of .92. These horses bet blindly only lost eight cents on the dollar � just a bit more than a third of the 22 cents on the dollar loss that comes with random betting. Horses who figure to be in front coming into the stretch of a maiden claimer comprise a "soft spot," a situation within shouting distance of profitability that you should be aware of when handicapping a maiden claiming race.

So, in maiden claimers, the thing to look for is the horse who figures to be in front at the second call. (By second call, I mean after four furlongs in a sprint, and after six furlongs in a route.) There isn�t a lot of closing pressure in the typical maiden claimer. There is often a dearth of talent sufficient to overcome any stretch advantage, so the horse who�s in front coming into the stretch will often be able to stagger home.

How do you find the horse who should be in front at the second call? There are a number of ways. If you have pace and speed figures for the race, look for the top pace figure. If you use Jim Cramer�s RS/Pos methods, you should have a good feel for who might be leading at that point. If you�ve got a good handicapping program, it should project each horse�s position at each point in the upcoming race.

If all you�ve got is a pen and the Daily Racing Form, you can do it quick and dirty. (If you�re a stickler for accuracy in pace numbers, please skip this paragraph � it may make you queasy.) Calculate the speed points for each horse. Only look at the top five speed point horses. Mark the paceline that you think best represents what each of these five horse will do today. For the paceline, try to use a race from the same general distance (sprint/route) and circuit as today�s race. Then simply take the raw second call time for that race and add one-fifth of a second to it for each beaten length. (Round off the beaten lengths to make the math easier.) For instance, if a horse�s last race was a sprint that ran 45 4/5 to the second call, and this horse was 3 lengths from the leader at the second call, the projected pace time for this horse would be 45 4/5 + 3/5 = 46 2/5. Take the horse with the lowest projection as your projected second call leader.

So far, so good, but you�re not yet in the black. You need to handicap further and throw out some of these frontrunners to enter the land of milk and honey. In handicapping further, here are some guidelines: Remember the all-important class drop from maiden special weight to maiden claimer, and favor a horse making that drop. Take note of horses who seem to have legitimate excuses for their previous losses. Always excuse a poor first race, and don�t worry much about a poor second race. Look for a horse with a speed figure edge over the rest of the field � you�ll often see that several horses dominate the rest of the field in terms of speed figures. If the projected frontrunner is one of these, so much the better. Note the horse with the best speed figure � another strong predictor in maiden claimers is the horse with the very best speed figure anywhere in its record. And a horse that has led at the second call in the past at high odds should be given a second look. If you focus on horses who figure to be ahead of the pack in maiden claiming races, you�ll be ahead of your competition too. NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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