When Reading the Fine Print in a Program Can Lead to a Nice Profit

A young fan analyzes the program during an afternoon of racing at Monmouth Park. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

A key element in handicapping is understanding why a horse has been entered in a certain race.

Why is it dropping in claiming price?

Why is it switching to turf?

Why is it cutting back to a sprint?

Handicappers have to make a judgment based on the best available evidence, which can be tricky. Yet sometimes it only involves reading the fine print about a race.

Let’s take a look at the sixth race at Monmouth Park on Aug. 6. At a quick glance, it seemed to be a race for horses with a claiming tag of $7,500 who are 4 years old and older and had never won two races.

As you might expect, it brought together a lackluster group of horses with unsightly records such as a 1-for-23 or 1-for-18.

But there was also one horse with five wins in 20 career starts and two victories in his last two starts, both at the same $7,500 claiming level for non-winners of two races.

If you’re wondering how that’s possible, it’s because of an added condition of the race. Aside from limited winners who are 4 years old and older, the race was also open to 3-year-olds with connections willing to race them for the $7,500 claiming tag – any 3-year-old, even if had multiple wins.

Races with conditions like this are not unusual at this time of year. They are intended to put younger horses on a level playing ground with older rivals. Yet they inevitably favor younger horses with a will to win over older runners who usually find a way to lose a race.

In this instance, it was a 3-year-old named Printer who took advantage of his older foes – on more than one occasion.

It started on June 30, when Printer won the race as a 1.30-1 favorite by 1 ¼ lengths for his third career victory.

Realizing the advantage his horse had in that race, on July 16 trainer Francisco Machado Jr. brought back Printer in the same level claimer and the 3-year-old won by 2 ¼ lengths as a 3-2 favorite.

So on Aug. 6, Machado went for the hat trick. Printer was a 2-1 morning-line favorite in his bid for a third straight win over horses with a penchant for avoiding the winner’s circle, and with an understanding of how the race’s conditions favored him, he seemed a solid bet, even at low odds.

The only horse in the race with more than one win, Printer was eventually bet down to a 7-5 favorite in a field of seven, and this time he turned the race into a laugher. The final margin was 13 lengths and the payoff was $4.80 – a small price, but a nice reward for reading the small print and understanding how the conditions of a race can sometimes point out a winner.

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