There’s no shortage of ways to pick the winner of a horse race. One of them is through a process of elimination.
Given the fact that there’s only one winner of a race and six or seven or eight or more horses who come out on the losing end, it’s definitely easier to a pick a loser than a winner. And when that toss-out is the betting favorite, it can surely open the door to a nice payoff.
Spotting a bad favorite isn’t easy, but some do stick out.
For example, let’s look at the fifth race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 21. The choice in the wagering, at odds of 6-5, was Soldat the Top, who was making the third start of her career for two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Just that limited amount of information and Brown's reputation could explain why Soldat the Top was favored, but there were a few worrisome items. For one, this was a $12,500 maiden claimer, not a maiden special weight race filled with horses from top outfits like Brown’s.
Also, she was purchased a year ago for $300,000 and now her connections were willing to lose her for about four percent of that purchase price.
Now, before going any further, it should be pointed that some of Brown’s top owners say he has the rare ability to quickly, and accurately, assess the talent in his horses. As a result, simply because he drops a horse into a claimer, even with the risk of a big financial loss, it does not mean that horse is hopeless. Some can turn into highly useful claimers.
Then again, some do not.
In Soldat the Top’s two starts, both on turf, she was 10th in a maiden special weight race and then sixth in a $20,000 maiden claimer. She lost by a combined total of more than 25 lengths in the two races.
Given the weakness of her rivals, it’s understandable that Soldat the Top was sent off as the favorite, even though she was racing on dirt for the first time. But was she worth a wager?
In this case, the answer was definitely no.
Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but here’s the pertinent question: Is there any value in taking 6-5 odds on a horse that has yet to show an ounce of talent? Of course not.
What stands out here is that a handicapper would not have to wait too long for a horse to come around at the same 6-5 odds with much better credentials, such as a close second or a decisive win in its last start.
Horses coming off sharp efforts are worthwhile risks at low odds, but banking that a horse who has been finishing up the track will suddenly sprout wings and fly is the kind of proposition that cries out for attractive odds like 5-1 or more. Suffice it to say, there’s nothing attractive about 6-5 odds on a slow horse.
As for what happened, Soldat the Top turned in an absolute clunker. She was second early and then steadily dropped back until she wound up a distant last, losing by more 50 lengths.
With the favorite off the board, it was the second choice, Appealing Lalibela, that won the race. While she only paid $5.80 to win, without Soldat the Top in the field, she probably would have returned $3.80.
And all it took was some help from a process of elimination to find her.