Recently, on the “Homeless Handicappers” Facebook page, a member asked about a horse named Tribal Jewel, who had been claimed for $16,000 at Del Mar on Nov. 25 and was subsequently entered for an $8,000 tag at Santa Anita on Jan. 6.
“What do you guys and gals do when you see this?” The member asked.
It’s a great question. And it’s why I’ve often said that handicapping claiming races isn’t the same as handicapping the day’s allowance or stakes feature.
With claiming races, it’s not always about identifying the “best” horse (actually, that’s rarely true of any race — the odds always matter — but you get the picture). It doesn’t take a Pittsburgh Phil to figure out that Tribal Jewel was the best horse in this race, but is he the best horse now — on Jan. 6?
Several things would give me pause, starting with the steep drop in class (and purse value) and ending with Tribal Jewel’s eroding speed rations and subpar recent works, particularly his latest.
Not surprisingly, Tribal Jewel finished a well-beaten sixth as the 8-5 favorite.
But it got me wondering? Are there any easy-to-spot signs that make a suspicious drop in class following a claim, well, suspicious? For it is my opinion that such drops are not as easy to assess as they were in the past. Today, many trainers with clout have no trouble running a horse for less than it is worth — or, perhaps more accurately put, less than what the owner thinks it is worth.
To find out, I consulted my racing database and here’s what I found. As a whole, horses that were claimed in their last race, performed as follows:
Win Rate: 16.7%
$2 Return (ROI): $1.59 (-20.57%)
This is slightly better than betting horses at random — but here’s where it starts to get interesting. Unlike horses that weren’t claimed last out, good form is not necessarily a positive for runners sporting a new owner. Take a peek at the digits on horses that finished in the money (third or better) and were claimed in their last race:
Win Rate: 17.5%
$2 Return (ROI): $1.51 (-24.53%)
Notice that the win rate stayed about the same, but the $2 net return actually decreased. And look at what happens when those same horses compete for a purse less than half of what it was in their last race:
Win Rate: 23.0%
$2 Return (ROI): $1.15 (-42.25%)
Of course, the sample size is wholly insufficient, but the numbers mirror what I’ve seen in other too-good-to-be-true scenarios: the win rate goes up, but the odds go down — way down.
There are some positive things to look for as well. Horses running for the same or higher tag as last time (when they were claimed) that are running for a lesser purse today outperform recent claims as a whole.
Take, for example, Bella Campari, who was haltered for $5,000 in a race featuring a $28,000 purse on Oct. 9, 2016, and was running for a $7,500 tag and $20,000 purse three weeks later. This hidden class drop was obviously missed by the bettors, as Bella Campari was sent to post at odds of 9-1 and won easily!
Interestingly, Bella was claimed in this race as well and, on Nov. 15, 2016, competed in a $10,000 claiming affair for a $30,000 purse.
She finished seventh, beaten by 13 lengths.