It’s not unusual for handicappers to have a certain type of horse that they always avoid.
A horse who was eased or vanned off in its last start seems a likely candidate for that type of designation.
And if that horse is a favorite or sent off at low odds in its next start, then it’s usually best to avoid it. There are surely much better 3-1 or 2-1 shots on a card than one who could not cross the finish line in its last start.
Yet to summarily dismiss every horse coming off a such a clunker could lead to some serious aggravation when one of those horses spoils your bet.
To guard against that, it’s best to look at the horse in terms of its risk/reward ratio and try to decide whether what happened was simply a glitch or bad day or a sign that a horse is in the midst of a tailspin and should be avoided until it shows an improved effort.
Workouts help in that regard but cannot tell the whole story. Most tracks require that a horse that is eased must put in an acceptable morning workout before it is allowed to race again, so if that horse re-appears in the entries it no doubt had a useful workout.
Yet a modest workout alone is usually not enough to solve the riddle of how to judge that horse’s current form.
There are other items to consider.
As an example, let’s look at Holding Aces, who ran in the seventh race at Saratoga on Aug. 6.
During the winter the 5-year-old turned in a few good efforts at Aqueduct, finishing second in two $25,000 claimers and third in a $40,000 claimer – each time in a race for non-winners of two races in their lifetime.
Then Holding Aces did not run for five months before re-appearing on June 12 in a $40,000 non-winners of two lifetime claimer, only this time he was sent to Delaware Park for his comeback race by trainer Chris Englehart.
Sent off as the odds-on favorite, Holding Aces dueled for the early lead but then dropped back abruptly and was eased.
After returning to New York, Holding Aces put in three workouts after that debacle, highlighted by a four-furlong breeze in a quick 48 1/5 seconds, the fifth-fastest of 99 works at the distance on Saratoga’s main track.
That workout was better than average and promising, yet what was even more telling was the race Englehart picked out for Holding Aces.
While an easier spot seemed apropos after such a poor effort, Englehart brought Holding Aces back in another $40,000 claimer for non-winners of two races.
Often a trainer might try to capitalize on the situation and run for a lower claiming tag, hoping that weaker competition could spark a better effort.
Yet Englehart kept Holding Aces at the same claiming price. If he thought something was still amiss, why would he keep the horse at the same level where he would be overmatched? It seemed sensible to reason that Englehart believed Holding Aces had bounced back from the Delaware race and did not want to risk losing him for a claiming price lower than the $40,000.
The toteboard also spoke on behalf of taking gamble on Holding Aces. In his last four races, he had been favored and was sent off at odds of 7-5 or lower. Now he was 20.60-1 and an intriguing possibility for at least a saver wager or perhaps inclusion in a double or Pick 3. The risk vs. reward ratio was definitely in his favor.
If you took that gamble, you were rewarded rather well when Holding Aces pulled away to score by 5 ¾ lengths and paid $43.20 to win. He also closed out a $233 double and $1,042 Pick 3 for those believed he was a horse capable of going from worst to first.