Love is Lovelier the Second Time Around

“There are those who’ll bet love comes but once and, yet, I’m oh so glad we met the second time around.”

– Frank Sinatra (The Second Time Around)

How often do you scan over a maiden race and see a horse that is making its second career start after blasting out to an early lead through the first call and maybe even the second call before seemingly calling it quits?  How should you be classifying this horse in your analysis of today’s race?

First, let’s look at the overall numbers. The following chart is comprised of 444 horses that showed early speed in their debut race only to fail late.  Specifically, I looked for any horse that was on or near the lead for the first two calls of the race, staying close up to the front at the first call (within one length) and fairly close at the second call (within one and a half lengths).  I have also broken down the data by age and class level:

All Maidens StatsOverall these horses come back to win their second start about a fifth of the time, regardless of any other data filters.  Both two-year-old maiden special weight races and maiden claiming races carded for three-year-olds or older seem to show the most promise.

We can further refine the two-year-old-maiden special weight results by applying a couple filters to the data:

  • Ran in a maiden special weight race in previous race.
  • Finished fifth or better, beaten by 10 lengths or less, in previous race.

2yo Maidens Stats

This drastically improves the results and keeps about 64 percent of the overall sample size for two-year-old maiden special weight races.  The most impressive factor here is the 41.30 percent win rate.  Factors such as days since last race, change in surface (turf to dirt or vice versa), and change in distance (sprint to route or vice versa) had no appreciable effects on the refined results.

We can also further refine the three-year-old and older maiden claiming races by applying the following filters:

  • Finish position in the last race is third or worse.
  • Finished within ten lengths (inclusive) of the winner last time.

3yo Maidens Stats

What is most interesting to note is that in both cases the filter of finishing ten or fewer lengths behind the winner last time applies.  We further broke down the numbers by class changes — moving up, down or staying the same — and all were profitable.  Just like in the two-year-old maiden special weight races, factors such as days since last race, change in surface, and change in distance had no appreciable effects on the results.

Tizbreezy, who raced a mile on the turf in a $25,000 maiden claiming affair at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 28, 2015, is a perfect example of what to look for:


Analysis:  Tizbreezy showed good early speed through the stretch in his debut having led at both the first and second calls, while still in contention at the stretch call.  Ultimately, he lost that race by 1 ¾ lengths, finishing fourth.  In this example, he stretches out from six and a half furlongs to a mile and switches from the dirt to the turf.  His turf pedigree is sound, so the switch in surface is not likely to be an issue.  Tizbreezy also meets the criteria from my article Results from Excuses, having been bumped at the break in his debut and running over a new surface and at a new distance here.


Tizbreezy was able to take this field wire to wire after showing early speed and failing in his debut race.  He was bet down considerably from his morning line of 5-1, but was still a solid play.

It is easy to dismiss a second-time starter who showed early speed as either a “one-dimensional frontrunner” or “habitual quitter” (two kinds of horses I’ve discussed before), but with only one start under their belts, you have to look a little deeper at these types.  Any number of factors may cause the horse to lose that debut — a troubled trip, being overwhelmed by actual race-day conditions, bleeding and needing Lasix or, maybe, the wrong surface or distance.

The important thing to take away here is that the horse showed some form when asked to run for the first time.  Under the right conditions, this can point to a horse that is ready to run when asked to come back out for their second career start.  Coupling this angle with your normal handicapping will help you find some solid plays in what are quite often wide open maiden fields.

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

Posted on