Homeracing

History Can Be Your Guide in Graded Stakes Races

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 7th, 2018

In theory, it seems sensible that handicappers should approach every race the same way and utilize their preferred methods of analysis to determine the most likely winner.

In practice, this is far from the case. Different types of races warrant different approaches in handicapping, and for graded stakes races, it can be beneficial to use history as a guide, analyzing previous renewals of the race to determine if past winners had anything in common.

A great example is the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park, a race that has been run under a wide variety of names over the last decade. But while its name may change, the race itself does not, and being held over Turfway’s synthetic Polytrack course has made the Spiral a tricky race for handicappers to analyze.

Since the Spiral is a Kentucky Derby prep race, it tends to attract dirt horses with an eye on earning Kentucky Derby qualification points, and since these dirt horses are usually well known, they tend to attract lots of wagering support. The problem is, they rarely win—instead, the Spiral strongly favors horses with good form on turf or Polytrack while putting dirt runners and those with experience on other types of synthetic tracks (such as Tapeta) at a disadvantage.

In 2016, eleven horses lined up to contest the Spiral Stakes, and as usual the betting was focused on horses that figured to be at a disadvantage. Airoforce, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) on dirt, was the 2.20-1 favorite despite entering off a sub-par run in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), also on dirt. Kasseopia, third in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) on Tapeta, was the second choice at 3.70-1, while Jensen—impressive winner of an allowance race on dirt at Fair Grounds—was also well-bet at 5.10-1.

Only four horses in the Spiral field entered the race with good form on turf and Polytrack, and all were longshots in the wagering. One—Oscar Nominated—loomed as a contender based off a popular trainer angle involving Mike Maker. The others were Azar, a graded stakes winner on turf; Surgical Strike, winner of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes over the Polytrack at Turfway Park; and Two Step Time, winner of the Texas Heritage Stakes on turf at Sam Houston Race Park.

Based on history, these four were a perfect fit for the Spiral Stakes (especially since they were all entering off of victories), but surely it would have been too easy to simply box these four in the exotics? Apparently that’s what most bettors thought, because when Oscar Nominated, Azar, Surgical Strike, and Two Step Time ran 1-2-3-4 at odds of 23-1, 8-1, 8-1, and 58-1, the $1 superfecta returned a massive $13,802.50, proving once again that history can be a great guide in graded stakes races.
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