What to Look for When Betting First-Time Starters

Racing fans look for a winner at Churchill Downs.
Racing fans look for a winner at Churchill Downs. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Judging the talents in an unraced horse can be a very risky business. In some cases, when a top trainer like Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, or Todd Pletcher sends out a firster, that’s reason enough to include the horse in the mix.

Yet what happens when a trainer who does not own an Eclipse Award sends out a first-time starter? What should you look for?

For the purposes of this example, we’ll use Q Go Girl, who won at first asking for trainer Brendan Walsh in the opening race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 11.

What signs were the most visible?

Let’s start with the morning line. Walsh does not own a solid winning percentage with first-time starters. Daily Racing Form stats had him winning four percent of the time with horses making their debut. As a result, Q Go Girl’s chances were listed at 15-1 on the morning line.

Yet by post time, the tote board told a different and more meaningful tale for handicappers. Q Go Girl’s odds had shrunk to 9-2, a sign that someone thought she had potential and deserved a close look from handicappers.

After that, looking at her last four workouts, the best of the bunch was a drill from the starting gate. For a first-time starter a quick gate work is an important factor since it tells handicappers that she can break from the gate cleanly, lessening the chances off her breaking slowly or awkwardly and losing the race at the start.

Beyond that, having one of the circuit’s better riders in Ricardo Santana Jr., and the trainer administering Lasix for her first start were positive signs.

All of that did not make Q Go Girl the lock of the day, but it did paint her as a horse worthy of attention who deserved inclusion in the sequence and exotic wagering and perhaps a win bet.

And if you did, you cashed an $11.80 win ticket as well as a $32.40 exacta with the 3-2 favorite finishing second and a $108.80 double with an 8-1 shot winning the second race.

Not a bad way at all for a horse to start her career – and for handicappers to start their day.

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