Demystifying the Starter Allowance Race

Recently I discussed how to approach allowance optional claiming races. Based on some of the feedback that I received, there are many horseplayers that struggle with another type of race almost as much as allowance optional claiming races. Often featuring craftily written conditions, the starter allowance can be equally as confusing to horseplayers. Yet, with a keen eye, one can find horses that meet and exceed the condition.

By definition, a starter allowance race, sometimes also called a starter handicap, is a race for horses that have started for a specific claiming price since a certain date. Some racing secretaries will add additional restrictions such as non-winners of a number of races lifetime or non-winners of a different class of races.

A great example of a horse that outclassed his competition by virtue of how the starter allowance conditions were written was Rapid Redux. This gelding compiled a record 22 wins in a row, primarily against starter allowance company. He had significant back class when entered in a $5,000 claiming race and then raced primarily against other horses that had been entered for $5,000 within the time span allowed by the conditions during his win streak.

So what should we look for?

We need to find the entrants that have a class advantage. Not only should these horses stand out from the rest of the field, but they should have won or had quality starts over the same surface (dirt, turf, all-weather) and distance (route, sprint) as today’s race.

A great example of how to approach a starter allowance race comes courtesy of Race 5 from Penn National on Oct. 26, 2016. This race was run at a mile and seventy yards over the main track.  The conditions read “for fillies and mares three years old and upward which have started for a claiming price of $5,000 or less since July 1, 2015.”

We will look at the final field to see which entrants possess a class advantage and, then, to validate the horses with our normal handicapping approach. Two horses scratched out of this race and will not be included in our analysis (4-Tina’s Note and 8-Even Prettier).


Sweets Galore shows quality starts in four of her running lines — three back at Monmouth, the two prior starts at Penn and Parx and at Parx in May.  She is a contender based on class.


Lotsa Noodles shows two quality starts at Monmouth where she won back to back races in conditioned $5,000 claiming events.  You can toss her last three efforts — two were over off tracks and her third race back was a troubled trip and likely a higher class than she can handle.  Non-Contender.


Tattersail does not have a quality start in her running lines.  Despite a wire to wire effort last out, she coasted to victory with a six-length advantage by the second call. While she does show some back class, those races were all sprints. She exhibits signs of being a one dimensional front runner.  Non-Contender.


Decadent Doll shows a quality start in her last effort despite the off track against $15,000 conditioned claimers. Her race two back is another quality start against $8,000 conditioned claimers. Five races back she logged another quality start against allowance optional claimers in a non-winners of two lifetime affair. She is a habitual quitter which negates her positive class figures. Non-Contender.


Perplexity is an interesting case. Since Charles Town has two-turn races at both six and a half furlongs and seven furlongs, I analyze those races like routes. Her 1-1/8 mile effort last out was a three-turn route in a handicap. She sports seven quality or near-quality races in her last ten running lines. She has won three races against $5,000 claiming horses and the $30,000 handicap. Her ability to rate off of the pace is a bonus.  Contender based on class and pace.


Kingdom’s Crown had a quality start last out against a field of open $6,250 claimers. The balance of her running lines are excusable races on the turf and non-quality starts. She is a one dimensional front runner which hurts her chances here.  Non-Contender.


Summarizing the field in the chart above shows the top two contenders here are #1 Sweets Galore and #6 Perplexity based on pace.  Perplexity has an advantage based on class.


As expected, Tattersail set the early pace and was unable to hold the lead with the early pressure of the habitual quitter Decadent Doll. Class prevailed as Perplexity was able get a stalking trip and made a big late run. Sweets Galore made a late run to catch third but couldn’t pass the tiring Tattersail.

Starter allowances can have conditions that are as craftily written as some conditioned claiming races.  It pays to read these conditions and recognize when a horse has a sizable class advantage. Unlike many claiming races, the advantage may not seem as apparent at first glance.  It pays to compare the field based on the quality starts they have shown in their running lines.

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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