By Art Parker
(Reprinted with permission from our friends at A Game of Skill)
The best horse players pay attention to trainers, at least to a small degree. Some players look beyond the initial statistics and general information. Some, like me, try to keep up with a great deal of information looking for an edge.
If you sit around the table with your buddies at the track discussing the next race someone is going to say something like, “Yeah, and this guy does pretty good with his layoff horses,” or something along those lines.
A response you may hear to that statement may sound like this. “That’s right, and he wins at a 14% rate with those types.” If you listen to the conversation you would first hear a broad general statement and then one validating it by a specific claim. But, is there more to it?
Good trainers that excel at certain types of races make plans to win; they don’t just fill out entry slips and hope for the best.
Let’s examine one of the frequently discussed categories of trainer performance – debut runners. Unless you are equipped with a great deal of information, and you get what can be confirmed as a true overlay, these races probably deserve a pass. I must admit that the intrigue is something that makes horse racing the great game that it is and the strong desire to figure out a tough race with several firsters (career debut runners) is something to be admired. That’s right, admired. I salute anyone who will read and study hard to figure out an impossible race as opposed to the mindless man who sits and pulls the handle of a slot machine.
It is more than knowing a certain trainer scores with debut runners more often than his competition. The questions are how and when does he do it?
Let’s take a very good veteran trainer like Reade Baker at Woodbine. Here is some raw data on Baker, according to my unofficial stats: In the last three years at Woodbine he has notched 189 wins and 23 of those were first time starters. At the end of the 2011 Woodbine meeting, Baker, (according to BRIS) had a win rate of 10% when he sends a rookie to the gate. Better horse players are pretty much limited with that information I have just given you, but they have an advantage over others with it. But when can we feel even more confident about betting this trainer (or others) when he has a debut runner?
The first thing is to distinguish his runners by age. Of Baker’s 23 debut wins in that time frame, 16 of them were two year olds. That’s a big piece of information because the babies are not running the first couple of months of the season and, the number of two year old races doesn’t significantly increase until August or September. Baker is an outstanding trainer, but he doesn’t set the woods on fire with firsters age three and older.
Okay, now you have Baker on your mind when the two year olds start showing up at the gate. Is this all you need? Most guys will say yes, but the answer is no.
Baker’s training pattern varies little with a debut 2 year old winner. Almost always, these victories are preceded with the last several workouts (usually the last 4-5) taking place 6 to 7 days apart with the last work coming 5 to 7 days before the race day. And, you can expect a minimum of two gate works in the last 4 to 5 workouts.
Good trainers that excel at certain types of races make plans to win; they don’t just fill out entry slips and hope for the best. A trainer like Baker will have a pretty good idea when his trainee should be ready. He gets condition books well in advance and makes a plan to run. That is one reason the days of training are important; it is all part of the plan. Good trainers do this. Bad trainers do not.
Oh, there’s a little more. Almost half of Baker’s 2 year old debut winners were owned by the Bear Stables. And, all but a pair of the Bear Stables’ debut winners wore blinkers. The utilization of blinkers on Bear Stable runners is far more prevalent than on all other Baker horses in the same category. That tells me that the Bear Stables are expecting quick results to recover their investment in livestock, and it tells me that Baker wants to make sure those runners pay attention, and they are more likely to show early speed.
Unfortunately, most players approach second time starters with less intensity than debut runners. Wouldn’t it make sense to know a trainer’s winning move when his horse goes to the gate a second time, especially if the horse did not win his debut outing? It makes sense to me. In fact this is a category that gets ignored a great deal by players and those that provide information. There’s plenty of winning tickets to be cashed on second timers and we need to look no further than our Canadian trainer. Baker visited the winner’s circle in the last 3 years with 19 second timers. Of Baker’s 189 wins in 3 years, 42 of those came from horses in their first or second career start.
But here is the key to Baker’s second time starters…only one was a repeat winner. If you look at Baker’s second timers you want to focus on those that lost in their debut effort. The training pattern is pretty much the same with workouts spaced 6 to 7 days apart. Almost always, Baker returns to the gate with his second timer 20 to 30 days after the initial race. Baker usually keeps his runners in the same class for their second outing. If he doesn’t win the first time out, then he evaluates the performance and starts the process to win the next time.
I’ve never met or talked to trainer Reade Baker and probably never will. I can say the same for hundreds of horsemen that I follow. If you look deeper into past performances and charts, you can start to see things that 99.9% of the players never see. Yes, it takes some time and dedication. But, it is critical for a player to gain an advantage somewhere in the handicapping game.
Keeping up with trainers at your favorite tracks will help you get an advantage, plus it makes the game a lot more fun. We have the opportunity to find and develop our skills as horse players and taking advantage of that opportunity can give you an advantage…something that poor mindless fool at the slot machine will never have.
-Art Parker is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns” published by All Star Press.
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