Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming: A Classic Class Drop

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 28th, 2018

In the sport of horse racing, you’ll often hear handicappers refer to horses that are “dropping in class.”

The definition of dropping in class is simple—it means that a given horse is going to be facing easier competition than in his previous start. The horse will literally be dropping down from one class level to lower level; it could be a proven graded stakes winner dropping from a Grade 1 to a Grade 3, or it could be a low-level claimer dropping from a $16,000 claiming race to a $10,000 event.

One of the greatest drops in class is often the drop from a maiden special weight—open to any horse that has never won a race—to a maiden claiming race where each horse is available to be claimed for a certain price. Maiden special weights often draw future champions; maiden claiming races are usually for horses that have shown they lack the ability to compete at higher class levels.

As a result, great betting opportunities can arise when horses that have shown decent form in maiden special weights drop in class to a maiden claiming event. A perfect example occurred on July 30th, 2016 at historic Saratoga in New York. The last race of the day was a $40,000 maiden claiming race for fillies and mares going 8.5 furlongs on turf, and the vast majority of the eleven starters had already competed without success at the maiden claiming level.

In fact, an examination of the past performances revealed just two fillies that were making their maiden claiming debuts. One, Back Road Bellamy, was a longshot that hadn’t come close to winning in two relatively low-level maiden special weight races at Parx Racing and Delaware Park.

However, the other filly—Newcomb—had competed with reasonable success in maiden special weights on the California and Maryland circuits. Even better, her trainer—Tom Proctor—boasted a record of astonishing success with horses dropping from maiden special weight to maiden claiming events. Per the Daily Racing Form, Proctor had been winning at a striking 35% rate with such horses.

Surprisingly, Newcomb wasn’t favored to win, being sent off as the second choice at 3.40-1. In a determined effort, Newcomb went straight to the lead and held off a late run from favored Smile Big to prevail by a head, returning a generous $8.80 for every $2 win bet. The $2 exacta with favored Smile Big—a logical contender who had run well in four previous maiden special weights while competing only once for a claiming tag—paid $29.40, demonstrating once again how potent drops in class can be.