By Noel Michaels
It’s a time when trainers roll out their babies, and these juvenile maiden races can definitely offer handicapping challenges for horseplayers.
Here’s a few tips to navigating these puzzlers a bit more smoothly, especially for those of us who are not thoroughbred pedigree experts, and don’t have hours and hours to spend examining breeding, sales results, winning siblings, and sire and dam produce records that could shed light on these 2-year-olds.
First off, follow the money with first starters in juvenile races. Sometimes you look at the past performances for the things you’re supposed to in maiden races, like eye-catching workouts, expensive sales prices, and there’s nothing that jumps off the page. In many cases, however, the most important bit of information you need isn’t found on paper, it’s found on the tote board. The tote board can also help you eliminate horses that are not taking proper action. Sometimes nothing is more telling about a horse’s chances than it being dead on the board, especially when a horse is from a stable that you would expect to attract betting money.
We must also deal with the fact that many trainers have no understanding of young horses or how to successfully get them ready to run. Not every trainer is Todd Pletcher or Wesley Ward. You already know the stables that rarely win, because the stats with 2-year-olds, maidens, first starters, and second starters are listed right there in the trainers’ statistics in most past performances. Look for the trainers with the strong statistics in the relevant categories, and that alone can find you a mountain of winners.
Actually, betting 2-year-olds is highly worthwhile because they can be the most honest horses at the track. What you see is usually what you get. First starters often run just like they work out, and when you see a 2-year-old working blazing times from the gate, you can bet that horse often will run back to that kind of workout when it hits the racetrack. With maidens who have already raced, totally dramatic turnarounds can be unusual and hard to predict. Total stiffs don’t usually turn into winners overnight, and when they do, it often is the result of a change, such as first-time Lasix or blinkers on/off.
Another good tip-off you see time and time again are jockeys and jockey changes. Jockeys can tell handicappers a lot about the 2-year-olds entered in any race. Good horses from top stables are a valuable commodity at the track. The betting public can, to an extent, determine the quality of 2-year-olds merely by the prominence of the jockey taking the mounts. Who is riding a horse is often a signal of positive trainer intent. Do you see a high-profile jockey riding for a low-profile trainer? That’s good. Do you see a leading rider picking up the mount from a lower-rung journeyman? That’s good. Is a horse from a top barn being ridden by a lesser jockey? With a big-name rider off? That’s bad.
Follow these rules, and you should be able to narrow down at least half the field in every 2-year-old maiden race.
- Is the horse “live” or “dead” on the tote board. Is the betting coming in on the tote board a positive factor for a horse, or a negative?
- Look for horses trained by top, well-known trainers, or trainers with stats showing they win a high percentage of maiden 2-year-old races. In the case of first- or second-time starters, the trainer should show a good win percentage specifically in that category.
- A leading jockey named aboard 2-year-old is a positive factor. Jockey changes also can be bad or good. A low-profile jockey off, and a top jockey picking up the mount is good, while the opposite is a bad sign.
- Fast or bullet workouts are great to see for first starters, and you want to see at least one workout since the last race for any non-first starter. Other potential positive factors are blinkers on/off, and first-time Lasix.
- You don’t want to bet total deadbeats. With horses that have already run, try to limit your plays to horses that beat at least half the field in their last start.
When you see 2-year-old maidens meeting all or most of these five requirements, you can be sure your horse will have a good chance of winning or running well in today’s race. You will have the tools you need to give you the edge to betting almost any type of 2-year-old maiden race, even if you are not a pedigree expert.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.