Out-of-the-Money Spot Plays

We all have our own way of handicapping.  Generally, I use pace and sprinkle in profitable spot play angles when I find them in the past performances.  One of my favorite longshot angles focuses on horses that finished out of the money in their last two races that come back ready to fire at solid odds.

Basic Criteria:

  • Horse’s last race must have been run in the last 30 days, second race back in the last 60 days and third race back in the last 90 days.
  • The horse must have finished in either fourth- or fifth-place in each of its last two races.
  • The horse must not have finished in either fourth- or fifth-place in its third race back (it could’ve finished in the money or in sixth-place or worse).
  • Today’s race must either be a claiming race in which the horse is stepping up in class or remaining at the same level as in its previous race OR a maiden claiming race in which the horse is dropping in class.

I looked at a sample of 408 horses that met the first three criterion to illustrate how the results vary in different classes.

Spot Plays


Claiming Races
Based on the data above, the most reliable subset is claiming races.  While horses that are dropping in class have a higher percentage of winning or finishing in the money, the average and median win prices are too low to turn a profit.  Claiming horses that are staying at the same level or moving up in class show a profit across the board in all cases. The horses that are staying at the same level may be rounding into form off of two flat or excusable efforts while still finishing towards the front of the pack.  The horses stepping up in class might be showing improving form or the trainer thinks, based upon their workouts and off-track work, that the horse may be fit to beat better stock in its next race.  Likewise, you should scan through the horse’s running lines to see if the horse has some back class and has beaten better in the past.

Allowance & Stakes Races
The sample size doesn’t allow for any real analysis other than that the allowance horses that are staying at the same level don’t perform well at all.  They have likely proven that they can’t compete against other allowance horses.

Maiden Claiming Races
Maiden claiming horses on the drop show a significant advantage even with the short average and median win prices.  In this case the horse is dropping until it finds the right level at which to run.  It is no surprise that the horses staying at the same level or moving up in class perform so poorly.  If a horse can’t beat a lower-level maiden claiming field, it likely won’t beat a better one.

Maiden Special Weight
Another small sample size, but it mirrors the comments about the maiden claiming prospects.  If these horses can’t win at the level they are at now, it is not likely to change next out.


The low percentage of occurrence of this angle dictates that you handicap the field as you always do before endorsing any horse that qualifies as a play. Yet, at the right price, these spot play horses can land you some decent win prices or fill out your exotic wagers.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.

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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