Recognizing Reasons for Poor Debut Can Pay Dividends in Second Start

Fans look through the program in search of a winner. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Betting on a horse that lost its last race by nearly 50 lengths is a lot like playing with fire. More times than not, you’ll get burned hoping that a horse will find a way to make up that many lengths.

Yet as much as wagering on horses like that on a regular basis might leave you with an anemic batting average, there are rare times when you might be able to reasonably explain why such a weak effort happened.

As an example of that, there’s Montauk Traffic, who ran in the third race at Aqueduct on Dec. 28.

It was just the 2-year-old’s second career start and in his debut, yes, he lost by 48 ¼ lengths on Dec. 14 at Laurel Park.

So why should things be different in race two?

Let us count the ways.

For one, Montauk Traffic dwelt at the start, which means he was extremely late getting away from the starting gate and was already hopelessly beaten by the time the race was just underway.

After a start like that, when he was 44 lengths behind at the first call, it should be no surprise to learn that Montauk Traffic did not receive serious urging the rest of the way and finished nearly 50 lengths behind.

OK, so why will things turn around?

To begin, just because a horse breaks from the gate slowly in its first start, there’s no guarantee that he will do it again. It’s possible, but a top-notch trainer (Linda Rice in this case) will work hard to fix the issue. What matters more is whether the horse actually did something that race to indicate it has some ability.

Just because a horse breaks slowly, that doesn’t mean it will be a winner if it breaks smoothly.

With Montauk Traffic, while he was well behind everyone at the finish, the comment in his past performances said he had a solid gallop out, which means he was running rather quickly after the horses crossed the finish line.

What else?

The odds on Montauk Traffic for his debut were 4-1, indicating some people believed he had some ability.

Also, the track was muddy. Maybe he didn’t like a wet track.

Finally, even after Montauk Traffic dwelt in his debut, Rice decided to stay close to home in New York for his second start, keeping him at the maiden special weight level against stronger competition at Aqueduct.

Had Montauk Traffic appeared next in a claimer, that might have been a red flag.

But to be entered in a race in New York, just two weeks later, indicated the connections had some confidence that the initial effort was a glitch and there was some talent to mine.

The morning line price of 10-1 made it an appealing gamble, and it was probably a positive sign when he was bet down to 6-1.

Either way, Montauk Traffic broke with the rest of the field this time and once again came to life in the stretch. This time, he took charge in midstretch and drew off to a 4 ½-length win, paying $15.20 for those gamblers who were willing to get a little adventurous and play with fire.

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