Shapiro: Identifying Vulnerable Favorites Part 2

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TwinSpires Staff

June 16th, 2017

by Scott Shapiro

My series on identifying vulnerable favorites commenced with a look at maidens that consistently take money, yet continuously disappoint their backers. In case you missed it, click here for Part 1 in the series.

In today’s second chapter, I am going to discuss the idea of playing against short-priced horses trying something for the initial time.

For the sake of this article I will focus on two situations, but there are several other instances that can fit under the same general concept.

Firstly, horses running on a new surface for the first time can often be worth playing against when they are being heavily backed by the public.

One of the most common instances of this occurs when horses that have performed well over the main track compete on the grass for the first time. Sometimes the public will get behind an animal in this situation due to a drop in class. It also often happens when a horse’s performance or speed ratings are higher than his or her opposition despite being over a different surface.  

A perfect example of the former occurred this past Saturday at Santa Anita Park in Race 10.

#10 Lady Tapit was taking on a full field of optional claimers over the lawn.  The Peter Eurton trainee was exiting three straight graded stakes efforts over the dirt against Grade 1 winner Vale Dori. She had reportedly been training very well leading up to the race and went off the 5-2-favorite despite never competing on turf.

Unfortunately for her supporters, the five-year-old mare stalked outside rivals early, but never looked comfortable and finished a non-threatening 10th in a field of 12. Three horses with previous success on the green ran 1-2-3 resulting in a trifecta that paid $1,482 on a one-dollar wager.

Of course being successful in this race required more than just eliminating a susceptible chalk, but those who did so gave themselves a much better chance for the big score.

Another common case where a low priced runner may be worth taking a shot against is when horses coming off their maiden score try winners for the first time.

Big speed figures or large winning margins, especially if earned in a horse’s debut, can often lead to the runner being overbet when they meet much tougher competition the following start. Sometimes the public’s top choice will be special and handle victors in equally impressive fashion, but quite often they either regress off their debut or run into animals with more experience or talent that outperform them at a higher price.

There are countless examples of this, but one occurred on April 9th when John Sadler conditioned Selcourt moved out of a monster win at first asking and took on stakes competition in the Santa Paula Stakes.

The $75,000 event for three-year-old fillies featured a solid field of seven and Selcourt led the way in the betting at 6-5 odds after registering a 93 Brisnet Speed Rating in her February 12th debut. The daughter of Tiz Wonderful broke well and ran an admirable second after dueling with the Peter Miller-trained Chalon, but the chalk disappointed in the end as she was easily run down by 9-1 shot Union Strike.

Selcourt actually did not regress off that effort in pairing her Brisnet Speed figures and may have been pace compromised, but nonetheless a more seasoned filly took advantage of the race shape and rewarded her supporters with a win payout of more than $20 and became a separator in the late Pick 4.

This is far from an isolated occurrence as big efforts by first-time starters almost always lead to them being hammered at the windows in their second try and, in turn, present sharp handicappers with strong value options if playing against the public.

Much like in the first article, I hope that this piece gives you reasons to second guess horses that many will find hard to poke holes at when you come across these scenarios in the future. Remember no theory on beating logical contenders will work each and every time. The key is to maximize your opinion when it is correct and produce a positive return on investment in the long run.

Handicapper Scott Shapiro provides Daily Selections at for Santa Anita and Woodbine