When to Excuse a Racehorse’s Poor Performance

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

There are plenty of reasons for a horse’s bad performance. Most of them suggest that you should avoid wagering on that horse the next time it runs.

But there are a few times when you can simply ignore what happened in that weak previous start. One them is when a rider loses his irons (stirrups) in a race.

In this instance, it means the jockey’s foot or feet have come out of the saddle irons and he can no longer control the horse. While the horse can still run and the jockey can usually stay on board, the poor rider is desperately hanging on for dear life and cannot do anything but hope he does not create a nasty situation for others in the race.

He’s basically riding bareback, which is fine in a John Wayne movie but highly problematic in a pari-mutuel horse race.

Thus, what happened in the race says nothing at all about the horse’s speed and talent and should not impact his next race adversely – despite what the running line in his past performances might say.

For an example, let’s look at Fortune Cookie, which, aside from being a tasty way of telling you what awaits you in the future and being the name of a classic Jack Lemon-Walter Matthau movie that is highly recommended viewing, is a 3-year-old ridgling who started in the first race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 12.

Three starts back, he ran against solid company in a $75,000 optional claimer at Gulfstream Park and finished second on May 28.

Trainer Robert Dibona then gave him five months off, bringing him back to the races on Oct. 28 in a $16,000 optional claimer. Following a slow start, Fortune Cookie never fired and was a badly beaten seventh.

After that, Fortune Cookie was dropped into a $30,000 claimer on Nov. 7 at Gulfstream Park West (the old Calder) that was restricted to 3-year-olds or horses who had never won two races, which was weaker company than he had been facing. That initial race after the layoff also had to help from a conditioning standpoint.

In a field of seven, Fortune Cookie was sent off as the 2-1 second choice, but he lunged at the break and his jockey, Samuel Camacho Jr., lost the irons for a few furlongs. Camacho eventually got back in the saddle but at that point Fortune Cookie was last and never entered contention after that.

Following that fiasco, Fortune Cookie was entered in the same type of race on Dec. 12, showing a 14-length loss in his last start. Based that race, he was listed 10-1 in the morning line. Yet was he really any different than the horse who was 2-1 at post time in a similar race?

The answer, of course, was no and seeing a jockey switch to Paco Lopez and three nice works since that last race, including a bullet five-furlong drill in his most recent work, only made him more attractive.

Handicappers did figure this out even and eventually bet Fortune Cookie down to 9-2 at post time, but even at those odds, after he won by 1 ¼ lengths, it’s pretty neat to get $11.20 for $2 on a horse who could have been 2-1.

Keep all that in mind as a reminder the next time you stumble upon a similar situation. Relying on your memory certainly makes more than sense waiting for your next Chinese dinner and opening a fortune cookie that tells you: “Don’t be fooled by a bad effort when a horse’s jockey loses his irons.”

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