We have all heard the expression “Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.” Some horses will be career maidens, no matter how many times they come close to winning. A lot of money gets burnt on maidens that come close but can never get a nose out in front. So which maidens that finished second last time should we be betting on?
Let’s start with a couple of qualifiers before parsing down the data:
1) Horse must have finished in second place in a maiden race last out.
This is an indicator that horse is showing good recent form or has found the right condition. This may be a result of a drop in class, change in distance, or change in running surface.
2) Horse must have seven career starts or less.
Limiting the number of starts also prevents us from selecting a career maiden. Over the short career of the selected maidens, you will often see different classes, surfaces, distances and troubled trips that may provide some excuses for previous performances. By using a maximum of seven starts you are eliminating the horses that have faced the exact same conditions as today’s race too many times without winning.
3) Horse must have finished in the money (third or better) three times or less in its short career.
If you have a horse that routinely finishes in the money but can’t seem to win, you have the career “bridesmaid maiden.” This is the horse you should consider in your exotics and not the top spot. This could be a result of the horse being a habitual quitter or weak one-dimensional front runner.
4) Horse must have run in the last 31 days.
Older horses that have already proven that they can win off of a layoff can be profitable as discussed in my previous article What Kind of Layoff Horses Win Most, but younger horses are not as easy to evaluate.
5) Horse must show at least two workouts since their last race.
This shows intent on the part of the trainer. The horse is maintaining regular training intervals and is healthy.
6) Horse must be dropping in class or staying at the same level as their last race.
The horse may have just missed last out at this class or had an excuse for not winning. Perhaps a slight drop in class is just enough to give this horse an edge today.
At first glance, this data is encouraging. These horses are winning at a solid rate and turning a profit. But if we refine the data to split two-year-old horses from three-year-old and older horses and also by maiden special weight and maiden claiming, we can see the value of this spot play.
Three-year-old and older horses prove to be much more profitable than the juveniles, despite a similar win percentage with the value showing up with maiden claiming horses.
One last refinement is to look at horses that have three or more workouts and meet all the above criteria.
While a small sample size, the three-year-old-and-up horses continue to perform better with three or more workouts between starts. Yet, it is not to be completely dismissed with the juvenile horses. If you are playing pick 3s or pick 4s it will provide you with some higher-percentage horses to include with your contenders for that selected race.
Whether you are playing Saratoga or Penn National, maiden races are often difficult to handicap with first-time starters and horses that are trying new things. Adding this high-percentage and reliable spot play to your handicapping arsenal will help you increase your bottom line.