As much as maiden races often conjure up thoughts of a future champion making his or her first start, there are indeed some nice betting opportunities with horses who mature and progress into winners.
A good example of that can be found in the first race at Aqueduct on Dec. 22.
It was a one-turn, one-mile test for 2-year-old fillies bred in New York state.
The time of year usually indicates that the race will be filled with horses who started their career late in the year or struggled against better competition earlier in the year.
Yet there was something different about Courageous Girl.
She entered the race 0-for-5 but there were some definite signs of progress.
Then he entered her in a turf race in September at Belmont Park, but it was washed off the grass course by rain and moved to the main track at 1 1/16 miles, where she finished an improved second on a sloppy track, albeit 12 lengths behind the winner.
Three weeks later, Courageous Girl finally got her chance to run on a turf, and she wound up sixth.
About a month later, on Oct. 23, she took advantage of another off-the-turf race to finish a much better second, losing by a length on a wet, good track, again at 1 1/16 miles.
Off that length loss in a distance race, Courageous Girl was given two months off to prepare for her next start, which she entered with a few positive signs.
For one, she was coming off a career-best effort, always a good sign in a maiden race.
Then, she had the rest to recover from a tough effort.
Also, she was racing at a slightly shorter distance, which figured to enhance her chance of leading gate-to-wire.
And, at a time when some trainers might put away a horse for the winter, Donk kept her in training to face weaker competition in a bid for a maiden win.
It added up to a situation where Courageous Girl could have been favored.
But at post time, she was sitting on the toteboard at 4.20-1 odds.
If you believed that career-best effort in her last start was a positive sign, that was indeed a very nice price.
More fittingly, judging by the way the race developed, it was a gift from Santa Claus.
Courageous Girl grabbed the lead at the start and simply kept on motoring. She moved out to a four-length lead at the eighth pole and crossed the wire ahead by 4 ½ lengths.
She paid $10.40, which was a solid payout for siding with a promising maiden on the upswing.