Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
As much as there’s a science to handicapping, some good old-fashioned educated guess work can come in handy.
Horses returning from a layoff pose one of the greatest challenges for handicappers. There’s no sure-fire way to predict how they will perform in their first race after a long break.
Even after that comeback effort, it’s difficult to gauge what happens next, especially after a poor start.
Waterway, a 4-year-old New York-bred, serves as a good example of how to view comeback horses.
After running a good second in a maiden race on April 6, 2013 at Aqueduct, he did not return to the races until nearly 11 months later, on March 2 of this year. As it turned out, it wasn’t much of an effort as he showed brief speed and then faded to eighth, 12 lengths behind the winner.
It wasn’t the kind of showing that inspires confidence in a horse, but the important question became what Waterway got out of the race. Perhaps the March 2 race was intended as a workout that would get Waterway in shape for his next start – which came on March 24.
One positive sign was Waterway made a relatively quick return and was entered in the same maiden special weight race. A drop into a claimer could have been perceived as a belief that Waterway was simply not the same horse that he was a year ago.
Now the quandary involved how to view Waterway, as the horse who finished eighth on March 2 or the one who finished a solid second the previous spring?
There was a reason to stay away, yet there was also a chance that the March 2 race would move him forward and have him ready for a top effort. In the end, as is usually case, Waterway’s odds stood out as the decisive factor.
Sent off at 9-to-1 on March 2, had he been bet down to 3-to-1 or 4-to-1, the risk would not have been worth the gain. There are far easier ways to cash tickets on 3-to-1 shots than that.
Waterway, though, was 13-to-1, reasonable odds based on his previous race.
He certainly wasn’t a sure thing, but at 13-to-1 it seemed quite reasonable to believe that his comeback race would have ready to turn in an effort close to his April 2013 race.
As it turned out, that March 2 race was exactly what Waterway needed. In his second start off the layoff, Waterway jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. He drew clear in the stretch and won by 3 ¼ lengths to return $28.
THE LESSON: There’s always some degree of mystery surrounding horses who return from a layoff. If you can find enough positive signs to take a gamble, just make sure you get the proper amount of value.
Courtesy of Equibase