Is Class Easier To Determine In Claiming Races?

beulah-parkA claiming race is an event held for horses that may be purchased (i.e., claimed) by a person or entity of standing for a specified price. If a horse is claimed, the previous owner receives any purse money due even though title to the horse claimed transfers to the claimant as soon as the field leaves the starting gate. A disqualification of the horse by order of the stewards shall have no effect upon the claim.

In California, and soon to come, I am sure, in other jurisdictions, the stewards shall void the claim and return the horse to the original owner if the horse suffers a fatality during the running of the race, or the official veterinarian determines the horse will be placed on the Veterinarian’s List as unsound or lame before the horse is released to the successful claimant.

The highest level claiming race is the optional claimer, with claiming prices of $100,000 or more. In such races, horses may be entered to be claimed or not at the discretion of the owner. Such races occur most often at major racetracks such as Del Mar or Belmont Park. On the other end of the spectrum are claiming races held at minor racetracks such as Beulah Park and Portland Meadows, where claiming prices have been known to be as low as $1,000.

Based on claiming prices, you might be tempted as many are to relate class to claiming price as these natural stepping stones should, theoretically, make it easier to determine the “class of the race,” but how do you decide the class of a horse that wins a six furlong claiming race for $16,000 in a time of 1:10 1/5 one day, then loses a six furlong $12,500 claiming race two weeks later while finishing second in 1:10 flat as the overwhelming odds-on favorite to a horse whose only previous win was in a $10,000 claiming event six months earlier?

I encourage you to read an earlier post on the subject titled, “Class In Horse Racing: An Elusive Element.”Horse_50x50

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Defining The Class Of The Horse Race

secretariatSpend a day at any racetrack in the country and you are sure to hear the phrase “class of the race.” Many handicappers have built their entire selection process around class, but what is it? How do you define class? How do you determine which horse is the “class of the race?”

In general, there are four classes of races:

  1. Maiden Races
  2. Claiming Races
  3. Allowance Races
  4. Stakes Races

These four imprecise classifications have sub-categories.

Maiden Special Weight (MSW) races are carded for horses that trainers and/or owners do not want to risk losing, but not all MSW races are created equal. A MSW race at Portland Meadows with a purse of $6,000 is certainly not going to attract the same caliber of horses as a MSW race at Belmont Park with a purse of $80,000.

Then there are Maiden Claiming races for horses that failed to win in MSW company or who are not thought to be good enough to compete against horses entered in MSW races. While carded for horses that have never won a race, these races are a subset of Claiming races as much as they are a subset of Maiden races, and the lower their claiming price the lower the quality of horses you are going to find entered in such races. Belmont Park will card Maiden races with claiming prices of $40,000 or more while Portland Meadows will offer Maiden races with tags as low as $2,500.

Now, if you are a handicapper who relies on class distinctions, what do you do with the information presented so far? Many will set up elaborate charts listing every possible level at which a horse could be entered at every racetrack in the country, taking into consideration purse values as well as claiming prices. While this might satisfy a need to classify races, questions still remain. How do you classify the horses that run in those races? How do you define “class of the race?”Horse_50x50

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Track Profiles And Par Times

Arlington-Park-Rolling-Meadows-Day-2012.06.03-41Many handicappers construct track profiles under the assumption that what happened yesterday is a predictor of what might happen today. They most often base their profiles on par times for every distance at every claiming level, every allowance level, and the various stakes levels offered at their favorite racetrack. In doing so, they seem to ignore what ‘par’ means, the two primary definitions of which follow:

     par: noun
     1. an equality in value or standing; a level of equality
     2. an average, usual, or normal amount, degree, quality, 
        condition, standard, or the like

I have referred to The Fallacy Of Using Par Times in a previous post, so hopefully you will not be bored if I repeat myself, but the assumption that all horses that compete in races at the same distance, at the same “class level,” are somehow created equal, and, therefore, are destined to finish their respective races in the same, par time, is ludicrous. To base track variances on par times only compounds the issue.

The surface condition of a racetrack can change within a matter of minutes depending on the weather, so how do you compare a final time for the sex, so-called class and distance of a race run on a lightening fast track on Tuesday with the par time created from the results of races run last year when the track may have experienced an inordinate number of rainy days?

In a perfect world, every horse would run a given distance in the exact, same time from one race to the next, and it would be obvious that Horse A, with a consistent six furlong time of 1:09 3/5, was faster than Horse B, with a consistent six furlong time of 1:10 1/5. However, the dynamics of every race are different, and profiles are by definition yesterday’s news. Thankfully, it is a rare instance when you find the exact, same group of horses competing against one another.Horse_50x50

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Running Styles And Race Shapes

Horse_002aFrom the aspect of a traditional handicapper determining how an upcoming race will unfold before the event takes place is crucial to winning and losing. This can be accomplished by analyzing the running styles of the horses entered in the event. If there are three Front Runners that are all likely to seek the lead from the start, a logical person could assume those three horses might exhaust themselves as they each try valiantly to keep their nose in front, suggesting a Pace Presser or a Closer might end up in the winner’s circle. However, if a lone Front Runner is entered into a race with five or six Closers, it is entirely possible that Front Runner will get a unchallenged early lead and reach the wire before the Closers have found their strides.

While some horses are capable of changing their running styles to suit the makeup of the race, those animals are rare. Determining how the race will unfold is the best place to start. In a hypothetical field of eight horses, we might see the following running styles:

     PP, C, PP, C, C, C, C, C

Notice that none of these horses is a got-to-have-the-lead Front Runner, so the two Pace Pressers are likely to vie for the lead, but the pace is not likely to be exhausting for either. When the field hits the top of the stretch, they are both likely to have some energy left, one of the two will get a decisive lead, the other will finish second, and the closers will battle for third place money.

Over my many years of handicapping, I have noticed that the category with the least number, regardless of their running style, usually has the pace advantage. In the above scenario, the stronger of the Pace Pressers would likely wire the field.Horse_50x50

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Running Styles Of Horses

book-cover_modern-pace-handicappingTom Brohamer and Sartin Methodology followers believe that horses fall into one of four distinct running styles with respect to where they like to run in the pack, and over the years the following labels and definitions have stuck:

  • E:  The horse must have the lead.
  • EP: The horse is comfortable on the lead or following the leader one to three lengths back.
  • P:  The horse prefers to run four to seven lengths behind the leader in the middle of the pack.
  • S:  The horse prefers staying in the back of the pack in favor of a strong late run.

I think the Sartin folks made things overly complicated, and I prefer to break down the running styles of horses into three categories as follows:

  • Front Runners: As with the “E” horse above, a Front Runner wants the lead from the start of the race and will expend all of its energy if necessary to gain or maintain the lead, often falling to the back of the pack in the stretch.
  • Pace Pressers: A Pace Presser typically sits between one and four lengths behind the Front Runner(s) throughout the early stages of the race, waiting until the top of the stretch before making a final move on the leader. When a race lacks a true Front Runner, a Pace Presser might be found on the lead.
  • Closers: Most racing fans like to watch a Closer as they will fall to the back of the pack and appear to make one big run at the end of the race. In reality, such horses tend to run at a steady pace throughout the race and only appear to be rushing up on the leader. They are simply slowing down less rapidly than the early leaders.

Whichever method you use to determine the running styles of horses, it is a critical aspect of handicapping if you want to get a feel for how the race will take shape.Horse_50x50

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