Photo of turf racing at Gulfstream Park courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire.
The ability to forgive is an important element in handicapping, especially in the pursuit of longshots.
As much as most longshots are coming off a poor race, what can make a horse at long odds attractive often involves finding a legitimate excuse for that weak start.
To illustrate, consider Starship Jodi in the 7th race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 15.
The 5-year-old mare entered that $25,000 optional claimer turf race off an 8 ¼-length loss in her most recent race, when she finished fourth in the same company, and interest in her was minimal at the betting windows. At post time she was 40-to-1 in a field of 13.
Based on that information alone, 40-to-1 certainly did not seem out of line.
But some digging below the surface painted a slightly different picture.
While Starship Jodi does her best racing on turf, that previous loss came in the mud when rain washed the race off the grass and onto the sloppy main track.
Starship Jodi was also the 2-to-1 favorite in that race, odds that were no doubt shaped by an 8 ¾-length victory on a sloppy track at Calder back in 2011. To lose by eight lengths in another race on a sloppy track was not encouraging, but it was forgivable since a wet track at Calder has a different feel to it than a wet track at Gulfstream.
Beyond that, two starts back Starship Jodi was sent off at 7-to-2 odds, also in a $25,000 optional claimer. Contested on turf, Starship Jodi finished fourth that day, beaten three lengths.
Putting it all together, while Starship Jodi appeared to be in declining form, forgiving that poor effort in the mud gave you 40-to-1 odds on a horse that had lost by three lengths at 7-to-2 odds in a similar race and had wins in two of her last five races.
There was certainly no reason to back Starship Jodi at 2-to-1 odds or even 7-to-2, but at 40-to-1 she merited at least some consideration and those who found her to be an attractive overlay were rewarded with an $83.80 payoff when she won by nearly four lengths.
THE LESSON: The ability to find a legitimate excuse for a weak effort and forgive it can sometimes lead to cashing a ticket at long odds.