How Understanding First-Time Starters Can Lead to a Big Score

Eclipse Sportswire

On the Dec. 2 opening day of Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet, there was no time wasted in providing a handicapping lesson based on simply reading through the past performances.

It started with the very first race, a maiden special weight race at 7 ½ furlongs on the turf course.

There was a field of 12 and a solid favorite in the 7-5 choice, Really Proud. A 2-year-old filly trained by Christophe Clement, she was third in a Belmont Park maiden race in her last start.

At the other end of the spectrum, the longest price on the board was Ms Peintour at 65.50-1. Ms Peintour, a daughter of Paynter, was making her career debut for trainer Lilli Kurtinecz.

At first glance, the gap between the two seemed as wide as the Grand Canyon. Really Proud was coming off a good effort and hailed from the barn of the nation’s better turf trainers.

Ms Peintour showed a handful of slow works and was prepared for the races by someone with 21 career wins.

Yet there was something that stood out and obscured Ms Peintour’s odds. While some trainers with amazing talent in their barn, such as current and future Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, are experts at having their horses cranked up for a strong effort in their debut, most trainers sport weak batting averages with first-time starters.

Kurtinecz, who had just 73 starts and nine wins in 2017 for a success rate of 12 percent, seemed a likely candidate to struggle with horses new to the racetrack.

Yet the stats in Ms Peintour’s past performances told a different story. It seemed 3 of Kurtinecz’s 21 winners came from first-time starters. That totals out to 16 percent of all of her starters.

Even better, Kurtinecz had sent out only six first-timers, giving her a 50 percent success rate in an extremely difficult aspect of the sport.

Grated, it was a limited sample, and if Ms Peintour was 9-5, it would have been understandable to pass on a wager and wait for the sample size to grow.

Yet at 65.50-1, she was surely intriguing.

While it would have been difficult to justify her as a best bet of the day, that stat and her odds made her worthy of at least a small win bet and inclusion in some exotics wagers.

As it turned out, the race was a mismatch, though not in the expected manner. Ms Peintour was razor sharp for her debut, showing speed from the start and pulling away in the stretch to win by a lopsided 6 ¾ lengths.

Even a small $2 win bet returned $133, and if you used her in the exacta with 6-1 third choice Miraculously, you cashed to the turn of $978.40.

A more realistic possibility was using Ms Peintour as one of a few longshots in doubles with the favorite in the second race, Mended. A winner of nine straight races, Mended seemed destined to be a heavy favorite and linking her with some longshots in the opening leg of the double seemed a reasonable insurance for larger double wagers involving the favorites in the first race.

If you heeded the stats and used Ms Peintour in that role, you received $424.40 for that double, which more than covered other, larger double bets with the opening race chalk.

Realistically a mere $4 (a $2 win bet and a $2 double with Mended) could have turned into $557.

And all you had to do was believe the statistics to cash.

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