What to Consider When a Horse Moves Up in Class

Eclipse Sportswire

Many handicappers will tell you that one of the best class angles in horse racing is a horse descending from the maiden special weight class into a claimer. There are countless examples of a young horse waking up – sometimes at a very nice price – when they tackle claimers for the first time.

But what happens when the change goes in the opposite direction? Let’s say a horse flops in a maiden special weight race, then rebounds with a solid effort in a claimer and returns to the maiden special weight ranks. Is that horse a solid play?

This angle is trickier and needs some analysis. Sometimes that sharp effort wakes up a horse and it is more competitive back in the maiden special weight ranks. Other times, what happened before happens again and the runner struggles against better competition.

To help choose between the two, the connections can come in handy.

As an example, we’ll use Stefanie On Fleek, who ran in the eighth race at Gulfstream Park on March 1.

In her career debut on Nov. 30 on the turf at Aqueduct, she was 10th for seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher in a maiden special weight contest.

Not surprisingly, after that showing, she was shipped to Gulfstream and returned in a $50,000 maiden claimer on the turf on Jan. 16. The lack of surprise stems from all of the high-priced, high-caliber stock in Pletcher’s barn. There’s not much room for claimers there and when it appears as if a horse lacks the talent to be a solid allowance or stakes horse, it usually winds up in a claimer and stays there.

Yet in Stefanie On Fleek’s case, after closing strongly to take second in the claimer, she was returned to the maiden special weight ranks, where the connections could not lose her.

Given those circumstances, when a trainer like Pletcher has a change of heart about a horse, it is worth noting. Maybe there was a good amount of talent in Stefanie On Fleek after all.

Making her even more appealing, Stefanie On Fleek was overlooked in the betting at went off at 10-1 odds. Getting a Pletcher-trained runner at 10-1 or more is a rare sight and in the case of Stefanie On Fleek, it was a nugget of gold.

The 3-year-old filly clearly benefitted from her race in a claimer and responded with an even better performance against maiden special weight foes, winning by 1 ¾ lengths and paying $22.40 to win for a $2 win bet.

So, keep in mind, contrary to the popular saying, there are definitely times when a horse can indeed go back home to its previous level and thrive.

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