The Devil is in the Details: Finding an Edge in Conditioned Claiming Races

Understanding how the race conditions are written for a claiming race can be especially confusing, but such knowledge can offer the informed handicapper a big edge.

Not all horses running for the same claiming price are considered equal, so what’s the difference?

Conditioned claiming races based on wins over a period of time offer the greatest opportunity to find horses with an edge in claiming races. Unlike the animals running in the “non-winners of [pick a number] races lifetime” (noted as N2L, N3L, N4L, etc. in the past performances) affairs, the former horses can have any number of lifetime wins.

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Unlike “open” claiming races — claiming events that don’t have entry conditions — these races are carded with conditions like “non-winners of a race in the last year” or “non-winners of two races in the last six months” and often feature the added stipulations that races for a tag less than today’s or races with certain restrictions, e.g. races for state-bred horses, do not count towards eligibility.

So, what should we look for in these races?

First, we are looking to find horses that have recently won in the time period specified, but at a claiming price or in a type of race that is noted in the condition as not counting towards race eligibility. For example, horses that have recently won a race with a claiming price of $4,000 that are running today for a claiming tag of $5,000 can offer value if the $4,000 race is excluded from today’s conditions.

Depending on how the race-specific conditions are written, you may also find that the conditions exclude state-bred wins from counting towards eligibility. Other than in Kentucky and Florida, the state-bred races often feature weaker competition than races that are not restricted to the horse’s state of birth. Still, these horses are often in sharp or improving form and stepping up a class level or two is not a big deal at the lower-level tracks.

Another type of horse to look for is one that meets today’s conditions, but only because it hasn’t been racing. If a horse shows an impressive record in comparable races before taking some time off and not competing much — or at all — during the conditioned period, it could be well-spotted against today’s lesser foes. These races offer the horse coming back off of a layoff a chance to race against a field comprised of chronic losers that have been running during the entire time period specified. What’s more, the average bettor will not see this as a drop in class since the claiming price is often the same as what the horse was competing for previously.

Similarly, you should look for a horse that has been placed in the wrong conditions or had a series of races that can be dismissed due to a variety of excuses lately. For example: A horse may meet today’s specific conditions by virtue of having run the last few races in sprints when the horse is better in routes or it may have been sent out over the turf in its last few starts when it prefers the main track.

Perhaps the horse was totally overmatched in its last start running in an allowance, starter allowance, or in a higher-level claiming race. The horse may have had troubled trips based on the comments from its previous races, with notes such as “steadied, clipped heels, bumped at start, impeded, lost whip, etc.”

The key here is that the horse can have a couple of excusable races, but it must show class and form prior to that bad run of luck or mismanagement. Today’s race could very well be a nice wake-up and the average bettor will dismiss the horse since the past performances will show superficially poor form.

The last type of horse to consider is a horse that has won recently at today’s level or higher and has one fewer win that the permissible number of victories noted in the conditions. For example, one qualifying win at today’s class or higher if today’s race is for “non-winners of two races in the last year.” This indicates improving form and a potential class edge if the animal is the only horse in today’s race that has met this condition.

In conclusion, not all claiming race conditions are considered equal. When you encounter a claiming race with conditions based upon a number of wins in a specified time period, consider the following:

  • What has the horse done recently against both higher-class and lower-class fields?
  • Has the horse had an extended layoff from racing and is now facing weaker competition?
  • Does the horse show superficially poor form of late from having troubled trips or being placed in the wrong spots?
  • Which horse best meets today’s race conditions?

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Coupling this approach with you normal handicapping will help you find an edge in conditioned claiming races since many bettors may not understand the specific conditions that have been applied to today’s race.

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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 www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at ray.wallin@live.com.

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