4 Keys to Cracking Maiden Optional Claiming Races

Recently I received some great feedback and emails on my articles about how to approach allowance optional claiming races and starter allowances. One email, in particular, had a great question that I decided to answer in today’s article.

“If you can analyze an allowance optional claiming race in part by class, how should you approach a maiden optional claimer since none of the horses have established class yet?”

Maiden optional claiming races do not appear on every circuit. Turf Paradise is one of the tracks that I play during the winter months that feature this kind of race. What is unique about this condition versus an allowance optional claiming race is that there is no condition that the horse needs to meet that would result in having to run for a claiming price. The connections can decide to run the horse either for the specified claiming price or not at all.

You should approach this race more like you would a maiden special weight race than you would a maiden claiming race. Here are four key things to look for before applying your normal handicapping analysis:

  1. Horses that have never run in a maiden claiming race. This is as close as you will get to determining class. If the horse has run for a claiming price already and has not had success, this may not be the right spot for it either.
  2. Horses that have not failed repeatedly at today’s conditions, distance, and surface. If they have proven to not perform in this spot, look elsewhere.
  3. Horses that have an excusable performance at today’s conditions, distance, and surface. These horses have yet to show what they can do in this spot.
  4. Horses at the lowest age permitted by the racing conditions. If the race is for three years old and upward, that four- or five-year-old is unlikely to show any major improvement, whereas the three-year-old is still developing and improving.

A solid example of a maiden optional claiming race was on Saturday January 7, 2017 in Race 3 from Turf Paradise.  The race ran at six furlongs over the main track for maidens, four years old and up with an optional claiming price of $30,000.

To get the past performances for this race, click HERE.

Unbridle Me Fast has never run in a maiden claiming race and does show two quality races back in May. His last effort first off of the layoff was not encouraging even with the jockey switch to Jake Barton. His past performances show that he is a one-dimensional front runner. Non-Contender.

Ya Antabttsy has a past performance full of excuses — four races over the turf, a couple of routes, and a couple of off track efforts. He has run for as low as $6,250 and despite the sloppy track, that race was not encouraging. While his running style should help here with all the weak early speed he does appear to be a lower tier horse. Non-Contender.

Awe So Suite had a quality start in California in his debut, but not one since. He has tried this level four times before dropping to a $16,000 price in his last effort where he showed a strong late move over the all-weather track at Golden Gate Fields. His off-the-pace style will help him here when the early pace fails, but not expecting any kind of improvement here. Non-Contender.

Shared Vision has four excusable races in his past performances, with one turf route and three sprints over an all-weather track. He is in for a price here after running for $16,000 last out. He showed signs of being a one-dimensional front runner in his last start and the only positive he shows here is that he has never raced in a sprint over a fast dirt course. Non-Contender.

My Majesty runs for a claiming price for the first time is his career in this race. All four of his previous races are excusable — two over off tracks, a troubled trip, and a super sprint at three and a half furlongs as a two-year-old where he showed some ability to close. His solid workout pattern should negate the layoff. His off-the-pace style will help here against all the weak early speed. Contender.

Cecil the Cat is in for a claiming price today for the first time as well. Toss his last three efforts over the turf and he had a decent showing four back in his debut at Albuquerque. Addition of the blinkers here today may help as well despite showing signs of being a one-dimensional front runner. There is a chance that he may improve with the blinkers so we’ll have to consider him. Contender.

Ifhecouldhewood is a seven-year-old maiden who has never finished in the top half of any field against $5,000 maiden claiming horses. Non-Contender.

Trust Santiago is a five-year-old maiden who has had several chances at this condition and lower classes. He is another one dimensional front runner who will be part of the mad dash for the lead early. Non-Contender.


The amount of weak early speed in this race sets up for a horse coming from off the pace. Ya Antabttsy is too weak of a presser to handle this field and Awe So Suite is in over his head. Cecil the Cat can improve with the addition of blinkers and My Majesty should have an edge given his running style and first time racing in the “right” conditions. While My Majesty does not have the highest Pace Based Speed Rating (PBSR), he does hold a fractional advantage at both calls over the early speed horses.


My Majesty was able to get out to a commanding lead by the half mile and coasted home. The one-dimensional early speed of Unbridle Me Fast, Cecil the Cat, and Trust Santiago had to chase the pace and failed. Shared Vision plodded along to catch second in his first try over the dirt.

By following the four simple guidelines along with your normal handicapping will help you uncover solid plays in maiden optional claiming races. Just like any maiden race, it is important to avoid habitual losers and horses that may not be of the same caliber as the rest of the field.

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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