Once in a while, handicappers will come across a maiden race filled with horses that seemingly lack the desire or inclination to win.
This can be particularly evident in maiden claiming races, the lowest category of races for horses that have never recorded a victory. When you come across a field with lots of experienced (but winless) runners, it can be a wise strategy to take a stand against those horses and look for an unraced or lightly-raced horse whose level of ability is still unclear.
A great example of this occurred on May 12th, 2018 at Belmont Park. The second race of the day was a $40,000 maiden claiming race for three-year-old and older running 8.5 furlongs on turf. Twelve horses faced the starter, and their records were as follows:
Shiloh Lane: 0-for-5
Diplomatic Shaft: 0-for-6
Arch Contender: 0-for-21
Big Agenda: 0-for-5
Salsa Jack: 0-for-2
Buster Brown Bay: Unraced
The two betting favorites were Big Agenda and Untraceable, two of the more lightly-raced horses in the field. But while both were dropping in class from higher-quality maiden special weight races, there were reasons to think they could be vulnerable at short prices. Big Agenda boasted a fine record, but not necessarily the record of a horse that is determined to win—he had finished second in each of his last four starts, remarkably losing three of them by a nose. Untraceable figured to improve with the drop in class, but had been beaten anywhere from nine to 19 ¼ lengths in his three previous starts.
Under the circumstances, the first-time starters Carrick and Buster Brown Boy looked like contenders at nice prices. Carrick, a well-bred son of top stallion Giant’s Causeway, had turned in a solid string of workouts at Belmont Park for trainer Tom Morley and had the four-time Eclipse Award-winning ride Javier Castellano in the saddle. Even better, the Daily Racing Form past performances noted that Morley had been winning at a solid 20% rate with horses making their debuts in maiden claiming races. Buster Brown Boy’s pedigree and work tab were less impressive, but trainer Leah Gyarmati also had a solid record of success with first-time starters.
With Carrick starting at 15-1 and Buster Brown Boy at 61-1, they offered an excellent opportunity for win bets and also seemed like logical candidates to include in the exacta with the favorites. Buster Brown Boy was never a factor after being reluctant to load, but when Carrick exploded from off the pace to win by 4 ½ lengths, the reward was a $32.20 payoff for every $2 win bet. Even better, Big Agenda continued his streak of runner-up efforts and completed a $2 exacta that returned $119.50.