Looking for Hints of Potential When Betting Young Racehorses

Fans take in the action at Gulfstream Park in this 2018 photo from the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes card. (Eclipse Sportswire)

There are reasons why a horse goes off at 60-1 odds and they are typically not pretty.

That’s why when a horse at those long odds turns in a good effort, it’s usually greeted with skepticism.

Good racehorses are consistent. Slow ones might turn in a respectable effort about as often as the seasons change.

That’s why a horse coming off a good race at big odds is often the type who should be avoided in its next start. Let it prove itself by turning in back-to-back good performances and then you can head to the betting windows.

There are, of course, exceptions and it usually happens with a young, inexperienced horse as opposed to one who has a long history of subpar performances.

As an example, let’s look at The Pirates in the 12th race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8.

The 3-year-old colt started his career on Dec. 14 at Gulfstream, never racing better than seventh and finishing eighth at 23.90-1 odds in a $25,000 maiden-claiming race at five furlongs on the turf.

Not surprisingly, off that weak showing, in his second start he was sent off at 60.70-1 in a $20,000 maiden claimer on the turf at 1 1/16 miles.

Yet this time, The Pirates set sail with a vengeance. Traveling around two turns for the first time, the son of The Factor rushed out and grabbed the early lead and did not relinquish it until midstretch when he faded to fifth, beaten by 4 ¼ lengths.

Clearly it was a dramatic improvement, but which performance was the true indicator of The Pirates’ talents?

Given that The Pirates’ third start came in another 1 1/16-mile, $20,000 maiden-claiming race on the turf, it was a positive sign that a two-turn turf race was the right trip for the Pirates.

Yet beyond that, by looking over the past performances of the other horses in the race, The Pirates’ effort took on a brighter glow. In his two-turn debut, The Pirates carved out fractions of :22.25, :46.46, and 1:11.83, which were quick for that distance and class.


Because Perfect Beam, another starter in the Feb. 8 race, competed in a $20,000 maiden-claiming race at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 23. In that race, the fractions were :23.38, :47.11, and 1:12.42. Using that as a measuring stick, The Pirates set faster fractions by about a second and held on reasonably well in just his second career start and first at a two-turn distance.

That made The Pirates an intriguing horse in the Feb. 8 race, and while it was foolish to expect 60-1 odds once again, his morning line price of 15-1 was quite appealing.

So appealing that by post time, he was bet down to odds of 7.70-1, which was still a nice risk/reward ratio.

And for those handicappers who believed that The Pirates’ second race was more reflective of his talents than his first try, those 7-1 odds were a steal.

When the starting gates opened, once again The Pirates seized the early lead, but this time, with more seasoning, he didn’t fade late.

The Pirates led at every call and dropped anchor in the winner’s circle after a 2 ½-length win.

The payoff? It was $17.40 for each $2 win ticket, and a lesson that long odds on a young horse are not always accurate.

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