Claiming races really are the backbone of horse racing, though the stakes and handicap races get all the publicity. If it wasn’t for cheap claiming races and the trainers who make a living conditioning horses with marginal ability to run in those races, many race tracks would close their doors. Therefore, if you want to make money betting on horse races, if you want to have many opportunities to find a good bet, claiming races should be part of your handicapping campaign.
While human nature plays a part in every horse race, nowhere is it more prevalent or important than in the claiming races. The reason for that is that the trainers, owners, and jockeys all have as much to gain by betting on the race as they do from winning the purse or the race. No one wants to hold a horse back in a Grade l stakes race in order to cash a ticket, but in many of the lower level “selling” races, as they’re often called, it sometimes makes more financial sense to lose the race and win the bet.
The trainer who knows his horse well and can get a good race when he wants one is also likely to see that his horse will be bet down to ridiculously low odds every time it runs unless it throws in a bad race now and then. If this happens within the claiming ranks no one pays much attention because it is expected that the low level horses are erratic.
One of my favorite angles is to find a trainer who has just re-claimed a horse that he trained and won with before. Some trainers who have a high win average with first time claims do so with horses they’ve trained before. If they claim a horse that they’ve never trained before, it may take them a few races to get their new runner sorted out, but when they have an animal they’ve worked with and figured out in the past, they often can manage a very good race first time out.
Now comes the tricky part of this angle, however, and that is, will this be the race that they hold the horse back in precisely because everyone expects it to win? If you’re fortunate enough to have inside information straight from the trainer’s stable, you will know if they are sending the horse for the win. If not, you may want to notice the betting patterns and try to figure out if they are backing their own horse.
Sometimes the best course of action is to sit out the first race when the trainer has reclaimed his horse. If the horse loses, which it may, then the odds will be higher next time out and that may be the trainer’s intention. If it wins, then you may want to sit out the next race as well because it will surely go off at short odds and that would be a time to hold that horse back. As I said before, handicapping claiming races involves as much psychology as horse sense.