Last year, approximately 22,500 Thoroughbreds were foaled in the United States. Not all of them will make to the racetrack, but if they do they will begin their careers as Maidens, horses which have yet to win a race. If their trainer believes they have sufficient ability, the horse’s career will likely begin in a Maiden Special Weight race. Racehorses destined for a bright future, those that ultimately compete in races such as the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup events, almost always garner their first victory in a Maiden Special Weight event. The eligibility requirements for Maiden Special Weight races can be based upon any number of factors, including age, sex, surface, and racing distance, providing trainers with many opportunities to find the right spot for their charges.
Racehorses lacking the talent to become a future stakes winner usually begin their careers in Maiden races with claiming conditions attached. In such races, the horses entered are eligible to be purchased out of the event by other horsemen. A horse that begins its career in a maiden claiming race has failed to demonstrate the talent necessary for greatness, but they have often shown enough promise to be worthy of the cost of caring for and feeding them. Horses that continuously lose when entered into Maiden Special Weight races eventually find themselves entered in Maiden claiming races.
From the standpoint of a handicapper, betting on Maiden races is difficult at best as there is often little, if any, information on which to base a wager. Some horses break their Maiden at first asking. How do you pick them without previous races to show you some sense of what they are capable of? Then there are horses such as Kentucky Derby winner Orb. The horse began his career as a 29/1 choice in a seven furlong event, which he lost. In each of his second and third starts, he finished fourth, in one of them beaten by more than 22 lengths. It wasn’t until his fourth start that Orb finally found his stride and won a race, beating the 1/5 favorite, Revolutionary. How do you bet on Orb when statistics tell you Revolutionary, based on his odds, will win 87% of the time; when everyone is touting the horse as a future star, and Orb has yet to become a blip on anyone’s radar?