Understanding Race Conditions to Help Pick Winners

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

A handicapper has many ways to pick the winner of a race.

There are tip sheets, past performances, and speed figures, just to name a few.

Yet sometimes simply reading the conditions of a race, and finding the loophole that a trainer intends to exploit, can steer you toward a winner.

Consider the case of a waiver claiming race. It’s a claiming race in which a trainer can opt to enter a horse who has not run in at least 180 days, which is hardly an unusual circumstance. Only in this instance, the horse coming off the layoff can race without a claiming tag, provided it races at the same level of its last start.

What this means is that a trainer can bring a horse back from a layoff and run it what is perceived to be an inviting spot without fear of losing the horse, which certainly seems like a rather positive sign of confidence on a trainer’s part.

Looking at it from the flip side, why would trainers protect a horse in poor form? They would definitely dangle it in a claimer and hope to lose it.

To illustrate that point, look at what happened in the 11th race at Santa Anita Park on June 10. It was a waiver maiden claiming race for a tag of $50,000 with a field of 11. Ten of the starters raced for the claiming price.

Then there was Fly to Mars, who had not raced since June 19, 2016. His trainer, Peter Miller, took advantage of the waiver and entered his horse without a claiming tag.

What happened?

Fly to Mars was indeed ready for his comeback. He won by a half-length and paid $10 to win as the 4-1 second choice.

As much as betting a horse coming off a one-year layoff can be risky, there are some signs that can alleviate some of those concerns and point out a prospective winner.

And sometimes you can find them simply by reading and understanding the conditions of a race.

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