You’re showing your age if you remember John Travolta as high school joker Vinnie "Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose" Barbarino before he became the disco dandy Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever.”
We’re referencing, of course, to Travolta’s role in the old television series “Welcome Back, Kotter,” which should serve as a reminder of an effective handicapping angle.
We’ll call it the “welcome back” angle, which involves looking for horses who were claimed back by their old owners.
A great example of this angle could be found in the sixth race at Belmont Park on Sept. 29.
One of the starters in the $40,000 maiden special weight race on turf was Winifred J, who came into the race after being claimed by trainer Ed Barker and owner CR Thoroughbreds in her previous start on Aug. 28 for $40,000, when she was second.
That performance, coming in a maiden claiming race on turf at Saratoga, certainly painted Winifred J as a contender in the Sept. 29 race, but what was truly interesting was her start before that, on July 13. In that race, this one another $40,000 maiden claimer at Saratoga, she finished third and she was claimed.
Her original connections, namely trainer Ed Barker and CR Thoroughbreds.
Think about that.
What happened was that in her seventh start for CR Thoroughbreds and Barker, she was claimed away for $40,000. Then in her very next start, CR Thoroughbreds and Barker gave that $40,000 back so they could “welcome back” Winifred J to their barn.
If the horse was a bottom-level claimer and someone gave back $5,000 to re-claim one of their former runners, that’s one thing.
It’s another story to get $40,000 and then turn around and give it back so you can get that horse back.
In that instance, as a horseplayer you’re listening in on a loud statement that the connections liked something about the horse.
By keeping Winifred J at the $40,000 level — and in a maiden special weight race, so there was no chance of losing her to a claim — it could be interpreted as a sign that her connections believed the 3-year-old filly was quite capable of winning the race and providing her owner with about $36,000 from the $62,000 purse.
While the owners chased the purse, handicappers had a chance to wager a few dollars on the “welcome back” angle.
The price was surely right as Winifred J was sent off at 5.30-1 odds, and also falling into the “correct” category was the handicapping instincts of bettors who wagered on her.
In a vivid example of why Barker wanted her back in his barn, Winifred J grabbed the lead at the start and never looked back, drawing off with ease in the stretch as she cruised to a 4 ¾-length victory. She paid a generous $12.60 to win and topped a $64.50 exacta.
Yep. Welcome back to the winner’s circle.