Some Thoughts on Maiden Races

by Dick Mitchell

It's no secret that I'm very fond of maiden races. They are the easiest types of races for me to handicap. Contrary to popular opinion, maiden races are the most predictable kind of races offered to the thoroughbred investor. Consider that the public favorite, on average, wins around 33% of all races. Then consider that the public favorite wins about 37% of all maiden races. The reality of maiden races is that they are easier to predict than the races in general.

It's amazing to me that so many handicappers consider these races to be difficult. Maybe it's because maiden races provide us with much less handicapping information than we're used to seeing; hence it's much more difficult to make an intelligent choice because we simply don't have enough solid information. The reality is the reverse is actually true; the less information, the less confusion. It's actually easier, not harder, to make handicapping decisions.

My approach to maiden races starts with the premise that they're very predictable. Additionally, they're usually comprised of full fields. Full fields attract widely-scattered betting; hence the winner will pay more than it would if it were entered in a smaller field. We're offered an irresistible combination, very predictable races and generous mutuels. What's even better is that 20% of all races carded are maiden races. How lovely. I hope this is sufficient to motivate you to pay close attention to maidens. If you're going to win big money at the races, it's imperative that you master maiden races, which are an essential ingredient of serial bets such as the Daily Double, the Pick-3, Pick-4, Pick-6, and even more common exotics, including the exacta and trifecta. Maidens are crucial to your racetrack financial health.

Mark Cramer uncovered a profitable subset of overlay mutuels. When a drop in class from maiden special weight to maiden claiming is accompanied by a positive rider change to a leading jockey, head to the windows. It's truly a dynamite sign of excellent trainer intent and a hot angle on its own. This factor alone has made a flat-bet profit for the past two decades. It even works in the open claiming divisions. The class drop/jockey switch angle, especially in combination with improving form as measured by ability times or new found early speed, signals a horse on the verge of breaking its maiden. 

It's also no secret that I'm a huge fan of Mark Cramer. After all, he's the guy who taught me how to win at thoroughbred wagering. Each month, it's with great eagerness and anticipation that I look forward to reading his outstanding C&X Report. He never fails to blow me away. In the July 2000 issue, he shares his research on maiden second-time starters. Wow, he put a new spin on the very enigmatic handicapping question, "How do you handle second-time starters?"

I've urged readers to treat them like first-time starters, and look only at their breeding, unless they were very competitive in their first race. In other words, you forgive a bad race. Consider it as "schooling," and expect improvement. So take a look at their breeding numbers, and see if they are the best-bred of the first- and second-time starters. If so, and the race doesn't contain any horse who can run to the pars for today's class level, you have a bet. I've hit some monsters using this very simple technique. As an aside, if a race does contain horses that can run to the pars for today's class level, I usually forget about the first- and second-time starters for the win hole, but use the best-bred of the group in the second and third spots in exactas and trifectas.  

Cramer's research confirmed my idea of schooling. He found that second-time starters increase their Beyer Number by an average of almost 10 points. Here's what he says to watch for:

  1. Second-time starter
  2. Fourth or worse and at least 4 lengths behind in debut race.
  3. Exclude sprint-to-route unless it's turf and the horse has superb breeding.
  4. Exclude "merry-go-round" horses (never ahead of any horse in its debut race).
  5. Exclude horses jumping in class whose first race was in maiden claiming ranks.
  6. Prefer a jockey switch.

I would insist upon a positive jockey switch. What kind of hit rate can you expect if you blindly apply the ideas of Cramer's research? Answer: abysmally low. Somewhere between 11% and 15%. The good news is that you can expect a greater than 11% ROI. In other words, your average odds will be in the 8-1 to 9-1 range. So, if you find yourself in a handicapping contest where's its to your advantage to pick longshots, you might want to consider this method. Cramer says, "The player who views the results of this research with clarity can have a positive repercussion in his daily doubles or pick threes. If you already used two horses in a maiden race, it doesn't cost a whole lot to add the second-timer, provided that you have well-chosen and live horses in the other two legs of the pick-3."

Pay attention to second-time starters. They could make you a lot of money. See you on the short line.