There you are squinting at the racing form�s past performances and you come to a maiden race and there are no past performances for some of the horses. Many handicappers are lost when they don�t have a past race to use to judge a horse. So what to do when faced with first-time starters? There are lots of urban handicapping myths out there: throw out first-time-starters in maiden claiming races; only bet a maiden if it�s being bet down, and so on.
I recently did a study of first-time starters, using a sample of 693 horses. Following are some interesting indications about first-time starters from that analysis.
Note: ROI means Return On Investment. A 1.00 is break-even, 1.20 means you make 20 cents for every dollar you bet, .60 means you lose 40 cents for every dollar you bet. True Impact is my own statistic � it�s calculated by dividing actual win percentage by expected win percentage. It tells you if a category of horses is outperforming or under-performing what they should do given their odds. A 1.00 True Impact means this group is winning just as much as it should. A .75 True Impact means they are winning 25% less than they should. True Impact is less sensitive to any one horse, so it isn�t easily skewed by one big longshot, as ROI can be.
�First-Time Starters in Routes: These generated a .60 ROI with a .75 True Impact. There were only 47 horses in this subcategory, but this verifies something Ron Ambrose and others have said in the past: Don�t bet a first-timer going long.
�First-Time Starters in Three Year Old and Up Races: A miserable .51 ROI (keep in mind that you�ll get about a .78 ROI throwing darts at the racing form) and a .62 True Impact. A horse who doesn�t start until his third year seems to be at a disadvantage until it has a race under its belt.
�First-Time Starters Wearing Front Bandages: Not a good sign. These generated a .30 ROI and a .37 True Impact.
�First-Time Starters on the Rail: I�ve always tended to throw out first-timers in post position #1. They should probably be treated not as an elimination, but as a negative. There were 74 first-timers on the rail in this sample, with a .59 ROI and a .72 True Impact.
�First-Time Starters in Statebred Races: This may be a fluke, but the 110 first-timers in statebred races had a 1.22 ROI and a 1.49 True Impact.
�First-Time Starters at Top Tracks: If you stick to the big California, New York and Kentucky circuits, with Woodbine thrown in for good measure, you seem to do better with firsters, at least in this sample. Horses starting for the first time at these tracks in this sample had a 1.11 ROI with a 1.36 True Impact.
�Favorite First-Time Starters: This was a small sample, but 15 of 35 first-timer favorites won, for a 43% hit rate, a 1.16 ROI and a 1.41 True Impact. Morning-line favorites had similar stats: a 1.15 ROI and a 1.41 True Impact from a small 33-horse sample.
�First-Time Starters in an Outside Post Position: In an unexpected result, firsters starting in post positions 10 through 12 generated a 1.83 ROI and a 2.23 True Impact from a sample of 64 horses.
�First-Time Starters with the Highest Percentage Jockey Over the Last 30 Days: A good jock on a FTS is a good sign. Even though the odds went down, this group of 70 horses had a 1.23 ROI and a 1.50 True Impact.
�First-Time Starters with the Highest Percentage Jockey/Trainer Comb Over the Last 30 Days: Like the previous subcategory, this group went off at lower odds but still managed profitability with a 1.73 ROI and a 2.11 True Impact from a group of 71 horses.
Oh, and what about that old handicapping maxim "Never bet a first-time starter in a maiden claimer."? Forget it. These horses do about as well as you'd expect given their odds � no better, no worse. They have a ho-hum ROI of .79 and a True Impact of .97.
Use these findings cautiously. I call them indications rather than conclusions because, believe it or not, 693 horses is too small a sample from which to draw really solid conclusions. Also, the fact that all these horses started in October may skew the sample. If I included first-timers from August or December, that might have changed the stats somewhat. NC
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