How to Decide if a Longshot is Worth a Bet

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

Forgiveness is a key part of handicapping.

Learning when you should excuse a weak or disappointing effort can sometimes be rewarded with some winning tickets on a longshot who was actually a logical contender in his or her previous starts.

To illustrate, take a look at the ninth race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 7. Creative Courage was listed at 8-1 in the morning line after finishing ninth in his last start.

As bad as that seems, it was his first sub-par effort after three straight solid efforts. He was also sent off at 9-2 odds in that start, indicating that there was something to like about him.

What was intriguing about the three starts before that was the Ian Wilkes-trained gelding lost by a neck in a maiden special weight race in his turf debut. Then he won by a neck in a maiden race as a 5-2 favorite. After that, he pressed the pace in an allowance race and finished fourth, beaten just two lengths.

That led to the clunker in a Nov. 24 race that came two months after his first race against winners. Losing by 12 lengths was hardly a ringing endorsement but there were also excuses, such as being steadied at the three-eighths pole and that he raced on wet, yielding turf for the first time.

Those were valid enough excuses, but to work up the guts to wager on Creative Courage, a little more incentive was needed. That could be found in two bullet workouts (the fastest of the day at that distance), one on dirt and one on turf, that Creative Courage registered in advance of the Jan. 7 race.

What that meant was that Creative Courage had a couple of excuses for a weak effort and a couple of bullet works to signal that he was poised for an improved effort. All that was needed was the right price on the tote board. As confident as a handicapper might have been about a bounce-back effort by Creative Courage, taking the same 9-2 odds as last time – or something lower – would have made him an underlay.

Instead, he was nearly 7-1 and posted a half-length win, paying $15.80 to win for those who had the courage to forgive his previous start and were creative enough to find excuses for an unusually weak performance.

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