Looking for Key Clues When Betting Maiden Races

Del Mar fans try to pick a winner from the program before a race during the 2018 meet. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Betting on maidens can be risky business.

Once a horse races several times and fails to reach the winner’s circle, the natural assumption is that it might be bridesmaid instead of a bride – or a groomsman instead of a groom – and is probably a better bet for the bottom half of an exacta or trifecta than on top.

Yet you might also be rushing to judgment.

Take the case of Earnednevergiven. He entered the third race at Del Mar on Aug. 16 with four career starts and nothing worse than a fourth. In his last two races, he showed a nice turn of speed but weakened late – like an equine groomsman.

On June 14 at Santa Anita, he set the pace in a $30,000 maiden claimer at a mile and led by 2 ½ lengths in early stretch but tired late and finished second by a half-length. After that, he moved up to a $50,000 maiden claimer at Del Mar on July 25 and again set the pace, but this time wound up third.

It looked like a close-but-no-cigar scenario, but then there were some positive signs when he returned on Aug. 16 at Del Mar.

This time the claiming price was $40,000 so the company was slightly easier. The comment line of his last race read that he “fought back.” There was also a jockey switch and trainer Michael Machowsky kept him at a mile distance instead of trying him in a sprint, showing his faith in his horse at the distance.

Best of all, Machowsky gave Earnednevergiven two workouts between his races on July 25 and Aug. 16. The first was for a half-mile in 48.40 seconds. The next one, on Aug. 12, was much better. It was three-eighths of a mile in a quick 35.40 seconds, the fastest of 24 workouts that day at the distance.

Putting workouts like that – especially a bullet work – into the 3-year-old gelding could be a sign that Machowsky thought Earnednevergiven was getting better as opposed to tailing off after some tough efforts.

At a morning-line price of 6-1 and the outside post in a field of eight where he could use his speed to control the pace, Earnednevergiven was surely intriguing.

At post time, he was 5-1 and all of Machowsky’s work paid off. Earnednevergiven grabbed a quick and clear lead that he never relinquished, winning by a length-and-a-quarter in front-running style and paying $12 for a $2 win bet.

For handicappers who didn’t make a quick assumption, it was a winner that was very much earned.

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