Homeracing

How Grass Pedigrees Can Provide Value in Turf Races

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 18th, 2018

It’s easy to assume that once a horse has started its racing career and run in a few races, its pedigree is no longer an important factor to consider in handicapping.

While this might be true in some cases, there are still many instances when pedigrees can be a relevant handicapping factor even for horses with lots of experience. This can be especially true when a horse is trying a different racing surface for the first time, an angle that can often lead to lucrative pedigree plays.

A few years back, a three-year-old colt named Skyring made his debut in a maiden race over the dirt track at Oaklawn Park. He could only finish fifth that day, and was subsequently beaten in two similar races at Oaklawn before breaking through with a narrow victory in his fourth start over the track.

Having secured his maiden win, Skyring stepped up into graded stakes company and contested the Illinois Derby (gr. III) on dirt at Hawthorne and the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) on Polytrack at Keeneland. In both races, he was among the longshots, and on each occasion he finished well off the board.

But for Skyring’s seventh start, trainer D. Wayne Lukas chose to shake things up, entering the colt in an allowance optional claiming race over the turf course at Churchill Downs. As a result of his recent poor efforts, bettors allowed Skyring to start at odds of 15-1, but even a brief glance at Skyring’s pedigree suggested that the colt might relish the switch in surfaces. His sire, English Channel, had won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) and an Eclipse Award as champion turf male, while Skyring’s dam—Violet Lady—had already foaled the stakes-placed turf runners Caballero Negro, Dressed to Kill, and Dyna Penny.

With this in mind, Skyring was certainly a viable win play while switching to turf, and after showing more speed than usual while tracking the pace, Skyring took command and gamely prevailed by a neck, generating a $33.20 payoff for every $2 win bet.

Even better, Skyring came back two weeks later in the James W. Murphy Stakes on grass at Pimlico, where he was once again overlooked in the wagering and sent off at 8-1. Perhaps some bettors were inclined to view his win at Churchill as a fluke, but handicappers who recognized Skyring’s improvement as being the result of his pedigree were rewarded once again when Skyring fought his way to a narrow victory, paying $19.60 to win.
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