Mine That Bird pulled off a shocking upset in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and came back with another strong effort in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
By Bob Ehalt
It doesn’t happen that often, but from time to time a horse at extremely long odds will win a race or figure in the exotics.
That’s all fine and good if you happen to wager on that upstart, but if you didn’t, it can lead to a perplexing moment or two when that horse returns to the races. Suddenly, there’s a decision that has to be made. Was that last race reflective of a rejuvenated runner who deserves backing in today’s race? Or should you put a stick on your shoulder and dare the dark horse to knock it off?
The answer is usually found in a highly beneficial handicapping process that should be applied to every race. By digging beneath the surface you can sometimes figure out why a horse ran well or poorly and then wager accordingly next time.
While anything can happen in a horse race, there are times when an unfathomable effort is easily explained – after the fact, of course.
Sometimes a 60-1 longshot who usually lingers at the back of the pack can have a suicidal speed duel unfold in front of him and have the field back up to him.
Sometimes a faint-hearted sprinter can find a racetrack so biased against closers (like Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup) that it gets incredibly brave on the front end and actually hangs on for a victory.
Sometimes a horse has a habit of turning in a good effort only to be so drained by it that he needs a couple of races to recover.
Those are just a few of the reasons why it would be wise to ignore a surprisingly strong effort and challenge that horse to beat you again.
Yet there are also some efforts that should not be discounted. In those instances, there’s usually something different about that start. Maybe the trainer added blinkers or removed them. Maybe the horse raced on Lasix (furosemide) or on the turf for the first time. Maybe the horse was returning from a layoff, and whatever was ailing it during a string of dismal showings a few months ago was cured.
A lot of different elements are rolled into handicapping and being a detective is one of them. There are usually clues in a horse’s last race that can answer some of the pertinent questions about its chances of winning. You simply have to learn how to play detective and sort through them and figure them out.
Be it a 3-5 favorite or a 35-1 longshot, that’s one part of the game that should never be overlooked.