How to find vulnerable favorites
by SCOTT SHAPIRO
A key component to being a quality horseplayer is finding vulnerable horses that take a significant segment of the public’s money.
As a longtime handicapper I pride myself in discovering a horse that the average handicapper thinks is worth gambling on at a short price, yet I believe is beatable.
Over the next several weeks, I will be looking at numerous angles I use as regularly as possible to identify a race with susceptible top few choices on the tote board. Some apply to maiden races, others to claiming races and some may be specific to a certain surface or distance. I hope you enjoy the discussion and can use some of the information to make you a better horseplayer.
One angle I love to use to find vulnerable runners taking significant money at the pari-mutuel windows is found in maiden races and involves horses that have finished in the top few spots several times, but have been unable to break through and find the winners’ circle. They all eventually get their picture taken, but when they do it is at a short price. Until then they offer plenty of quality opportunities for a gambler to take advantage of.
These “trial maidens” almost always get overbet and despite having Speed figures and running lines that may be tops in a given field are more times than not beatable and worth taking shots against in both the Win pool and in horizontal wagers.
These routine non-winners can come in two forms. Some are horses that are always prominent early in a race, but have nothing left in the final stages. Others are animals that have little early “zip,” and make up a lot of ground late, yet lack the killer instinct to pass them all.
The first type of runner draws a lot of attention because the public sees a lot of “1’s and “2’’s” in the past performances. They will continue to bet these horses even if there is little to no excuse for their inability to finish the deal in the final furlongs. However, a sharp handicapper will be able to differentiate those that have legitimate excuses from those horses that have no justification for being unable to win.
One example is Fox Hill Farms’ colt Honor and Courage. This $500,000 son of Unbridled’s Song has been taking money since his debut at Del Mar last July when he was sent off as the 2-1 favorite on debut. He has been forwardly placed in all of his starts and has hit the board often, but did not find the winners’ circle until this past Saturday at Santa Anita Park when he won at odds of 2-1.
Before his maiden-breaking performance where he was all out to get the job done, he offered horseplayers several occasions to take advantage of as evidenced by his win odds in each of his first six tries.
The second type of overbet maiden almost always passes a majority of the field, but never gets to the wire first. Most of these horses tend to lose their competitive spirit once they get past the majority of their rivals. They earn paychecks on a regular basis for their connections, yet they burn a lot of money on the win end and in horizontal wagers before they eventually get the job done.
Few examples illustrate this type of horse better than Richard Mandella-conditioned Scandal. The five-year-old mare has run second 7 times and finished in the money in 9 of her 11 starts after another runner-up effort on May 20 in Santa Anita Park’s fifth race, but she still has yet to break her maiden. Check out all of the money she has burnt!
A big part of having success with this angle is not being afraid to lose. Remember that eventually all of these horses will find the wire first at some point, but it will almost always be at a short price. It is taking advantage of the times that they do not win that will pad your bankroll and give you a better chance to be a winning player.
See you next week with another angle I use to find vulnerable favorites.
I am always available on twitter at @scottshap34 to answer questions and discuss.
Thanks for reading!