Betting a Maiden in a Stakes Race: Not as Foolish as it Might Seem

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Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

The biggest mismatch in horse racing might very well be a maiden in a stakes race.

But not always.

There are times when a maiden merits attention in a stakes, and there were a couple of good examples of it in the last few months.

Both involved 2-year-old stakes, which are usually filled with inexperienced horses, and there is a certain logic to that. Juvenile runners often move from a maiden victory to a stakes and sometimes that maiden winner is sent off as a favorite in that added-money race.

So, if that’s the case, why wouldn’t a horse who finished a close second to that maiden winner be a contender in the same stakes? Does the stigma of being a “maiden” turn a half-length difference between two horses in a maiden race into a 10-length gap in a stakes?

Think you see where this is heading.

The most famous example of a maiden winning a stakes race came in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when Good Magic became the first maiden ever to win the year’s most prestigious and important race for 2-year-olds. That fact alone shows the challenge for a maiden in a field loaded with experienced runners, yet it also illustrates how misleading the “maiden” tag can be.

Good Magic, a $1 million yearling trained by Chad Brown, debuted at Saratoga on Aug. 26 and was sent off as a 3-5 favorite in a small field of five. Unfortunately for Good Magic, he ran into Todd Pletcher-trained horse named Hazit who was also making his debut and turned in a razor-sharp effort in posting a length victory over Good Magic.

Losing to a first-time starter trained by Pletcher at the Spa is never a disgrace and that notion was reinforced when Brown brought Good Magic back in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

Hazit also returned in the Champagne and was sent off at odds of 5-1. Meanwhile, Good Magic, the maiden, was bet down to 4-1 and the betting public got it right as Good Magic finished second and Hazit was fifth.

Both horses traveled to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Hazit was ignored in the wagering. He was dismissed at 46-1 and finished eighth. Good Magic was 11-1, an inviting price on a horse who had taken a big step forward in the Champagne. Yes, he was a maiden, but the question came down to focusing on either the big effort in the Champagne or a length loss in his first race that left him as a maiden.

Those that placed more importance on the Champagne no doubt collected $25 for a $2 win bet when Good Magic turned in a huge effort and registered a 4 ¼-length victory.

More recently, on Dec. 17 at Aqueduct, the featured race was a New York Stallion Series stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings. The heavy favorite, at 3-5, was Stoney Bennett, who won his debut, then finished fourth and second in state-bred stakes. In the field of seven, there were five 2-year-olds who owned a win and two maidens who were second and fourth in their lone race.

What happened? When Stoney Bennett finished last, it paved the way for – wait for it – the two maidens to run 1-2.

Belleville Spring, who was second in his first race, finished second at 4-1. Aqua Bel Sar, who was fourth in his debut, was victorious at 37-1 and paid $77.

The exacta involving a maiden and a maiden no more paid $462.

A maiden winning a stakes race? It doesn’t happen often, but don’t draw any conclusions simply because a horse is a maiden. It could prove costly at the betting windows.

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