Evaluating Claiming Races and Class Droppers

A fan takes in the action in during the 2019 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

It’s a widely held belief that one of the more effective handicapping angles is looking for a horse dropping down from a maiden special weight race into a maiden claiming race for the first time.

The same strategy can also work with winners. For example, a horse dropping from an allowance race into a claimer.

That, too, offers a huge class edge that can sometimes lead to a nice payoff for a savvy handicapper who happens upon the right circumstances.

As a case in point, we’ll use the eighth race at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 14.

It was a $40,000 claiming race for horses who had not won two races in their lifetime.

Breaking from the rail was Stage Left, a 3-year-old making his seventh career start. It was his third start of the year after two tries in an allowance company where he was not dangled for a claiming tag by his connections.

The most recent one came on July 5 at Ellis Park, where he ran fifth. Before that, in his 2019 debut on April 20, he wound up sixth in an allowance-optional claiming race at Keeneland in which trainer Wesley Ward had the choice of running him for a $75,000 claiming tag or the allowance condition to protect him from being claimed. Ward opted for the allowance condition, showing the faith Ward had in the son of Congrats.

After the two losses, Ward was willing to expose Stage Left for a claiming tag, which could have been viewed as a cause for concern.

Yet at the other end of the scale, there was the big class edge that indicated Strike Left would turn in a better effort against weaker competition. Other positive signs included a sharp five-furlong workout that Stage Left put in for the race and the presence of Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez in the saddle.

Add it all up and Stage Left was an interesting possibility in the race.

Going off at odds of 5-1 only added some fuel to the fire.

What happened once the starting gates opened was that class won out.

Stage Left rushed out to grab the early lead and never looked back. He opened a clear lead through a half-mile and maintained it past the finish line for a 1 ¾-length victory.

The payoff was $12 for a $2 win bet and a lesson that dropping from protected company into a claimer is an important edge, be it a maiden race or a matchup between winners.

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