August 17, 2001

Practical Pointer #19: First-off-the-Claim Horses
A horse gets claimed. What's next?

It depends. (Great answer, huh?) However, there are some things, positive and negative, you might want to look out for. And one of them could be a real knockout.

Obviously, you want to look into the reasons a trainer claims a horse. Chief among them is that the trainer (or his financial backer, the owner) is going to make a profit on the initial investment. So when a trainer (or the owner, usually on the advice or with the approval of his or her trainer) forks over $10,000 for a horse, he or she is going to want to turn that transaction into future earnings that exceed the purchase price. At least that's the theory.

Secondarily, the owner or trainer may want to claim back a horse to whom they are endeared. However, the scope of this article will not look further at that aspect.

We can probably safely assume the chief motivation for claiming a horse is that the animal is an investment in the future. The big payoff will be down the road a-ways.

That said, consider the amount spent on horses purchased via claim. What kind of trainer would claim horses at the bottom level, especially after those often infirm and unsound horses have already shown good current form? You got it -- typically not a very good trainer.

That's because when you see an old-timer, hard-knocking $10,000 claimer (or lower, depending on your home circuit) get claimed on the basis of a few sharp races in a row, it's the amateur trainers in the claiming game who take the bite and make the buy. The streak often ends as soon as the horse ends up in unskilled hands. You might see some good claiming trainers get involved at the bottom, but don't expect much.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's the high-priced claiming game. And in case you didn't know it, the high-priced claiming game, at least in terms of actual dollars, most certainly includes maiden-claimers.

Any high-priced claim has to be taken seriously. The guys putting up the money for these expensive purchases know what they're doing. Indeed, you don't see the B- and C-rate trainers getting involved with these big-buck transactions. So definitely look out for them.

And then there are the maiden-claimers, dollar for dollar perhaps the most expensive claims around. Yes, nominally they don't look like much, but the investment is more high-stakes than meets the eye.

Think about it. To begin with, maiden-claimers are marked up by upwards of 100 percent of their face value. We all have heard that, say, a typical $32,000 maiden-claimer is probably worth only $16,000 when it graduates to open company. Sure.

And then there's the ability factor. At least with claiming races for winners, you know the animals have at least some talent, if not a whole bunch. Not so with maiden-claimers. Talk about a crapshoot. The horse claimed out of a maiden-claiming race saddles his new connections with two big burdens: an inflated claiming price and a huge question mark surrounding its ability.

And then there's the reality. Take a look at the guys on your circuit who are claiming maiden-claimers. Again, they're not the hapless conditioners. No, sir. The maiden-claimers get claimed by the sharpest horsemen on the grounds. Not necessarily the highest-profile marquee trainers, but definitely the trainers who can win with the stock they have. In short, it's the cagiest trainers who are claiming maiden-claimers.

It's simple to explain. They have owners with deep talents, they know when a horse has ability and they know that they can improve the horse to run to its full potential.

And, finally, it's all about commerce, baby. In short, the trainers who take horses out of maiden-claimers are certain to get the most bang for their buck . The returns on investment can be impressive -- and immediate.

A quick scan of 123 first-off-the-claim horses shows that, within that sample, the horses that were claimed out of maiden-claiming races in their most recent start and were jumped up to the maiden special weight level or the allowance or high-priced claiming levels did spectacularly well. They outran their odds, and they were live issues for the place and show spots when they didn't manage to win.

And there you have it. Watch out carefully next time for horses claimed out of a maiden-claiming race. They often are ready to reward the claiming trainer's investment right away. That's downright devious, but cool.

That's the main point. Another angle to be aware of is the first-route move in tandem with the first-claim move. The first-route move is the horse's absolute first time in a route race, not the more typical sprint-to-route move.

Again, the trainer who makes the claim and plays the first-route card is looking to project future earnings on the basis of something the horse has yet to show, but that the trainer feels the horse will show -- and soon. Tricky, huh?

Negatively, the first-off-the-claim horse who begins life with his new trainer by actually being lowered in claiming price or dropping to an all-time low is obviously no longer being expected to generate a positive return on investment. That's a horrible sign for a first-off-the-claim horse, and when these horses go off at low odds, as they amazingly often do, they are superb candidates to eliminate not just from the win pool, but from the other slots of the vertical exotics, too.

Another negative with first-off-the-claim horses seems to be the route-to-sprint move, especially in tandem with a first- or second-off-the-layoff race. These horses just don't win anything close to their fair share. Eliminate them without consequence.

That ought to help.

Two-Million-Dollar Weekend
We won't be able to provide extended coverage of Sunday's Pacific Classic, but tomorrow brings the Arlington Million and some excellent "supporting stakes" that would be marquee events on any of the other 364 days of the year. And we'll definitely look at all of it.

The Secretariat Stakes is a Grade I with, on this day, "only" a $400,000 purse. The distance is a mile and a quarter on the grass.

Navesink has been beating up on the locals at Delaware and Monmouth and now gets his acid test. He has all the ability in the world and will have to prove it against the best of the best in here. Why not? And the price is right at 8-1. If he gets upended, it looks like Sharp Performance will be the responsible party.

The Beverly D. is a $700,000 Grade I on grass for fillies and mares at the distance of a mile and three-sixteenths. Megans Bluff was very impressive last time, changing her style on a dime and closing like crazy. She can do that in here, or revert to the frontrunning style. Either way, she's a tough one to deny. Another longshot to look out for is Spook Express at 10-1, and England's Legend, The Seven Seas and Astra make sense as lower-priced contenders.

And in the day's big event, the Arlington Million at a mile and a quarter on turf, Quiet Resolve will try to take them all the way, but the one who looks ready to run them all down in the lane is Senure.

Year 2 of C&X Is History; Resubscribe Now, or Start Fresh for Year 3 in September
(Reprinted from last week's late editions.)

Mark Cramer is gearing up for another 12 spectacular issues of his acclaimed newsletter, C&X Report, and though it'll be a great feat for him to improve upon his output in Years 1 and 2, Cramer will do it -- and do it in style. Not like those artless techno-mopes or other assorted geekheads.

Yes, we're happy to report that Mr. Mark Cramer has a soul, and he shares it with readers each month. And he'll be off to a flying start in Year 3.

The first issue will contain a complete listing of all the probabilities of winning of all the C&X Report research articles from the first two years. All the techno-mopes and geekheads will want a bootleg copy of their own (they're notoriously tight), but they'll be sorely out of luck. (And if they ask if they can borrow your copy, look at them and say through gritted teeth, "I don't normally clench my fists, but what you just asked me angered me.") Don't be surprised if they retaliate with some sort of e-terrorism.

But their loss is your gain. For less than the price of a couple of off-track Racing Forms each month, you can get a monthly masterclass in both the art and science of Modern Thoroughbred Race Analysis. Cramer will take you on a dazzling, at times mystifying, at times breathtaking but always informative and entertaining tour of the waterfront of handicapping, wagering and winning horse-race psychology. Bottom line: You can't help but improve your bottom line.

Now for the tricky part. So you don't miss a single word of Cramer's wisdom during Year 3, you have to take action and either resubscribe or begin your subscription now. It's not too hard. Really. Just pick up your phone and dial (323) 876-7325 and have your credit card ready. Your subscription cost is $109 for 12 issues -- again less than the price of a couple of off-track Racing Forms each month. Or you can do it right here from your computer by getting on the Internet and going to Cynthia Publishing Company's Handicapping Store.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time.

We appreciate your comments about this newsletter. Please send them to our staff. Thank you!