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First Things First – Part II

First Things First – Part II

By Rich Nilsen.
(Reprinted with permission from our friends at A Game of Skill)

As we discussed briefly last week, the first thing a handicapper should do when looking at a race is to analyze the “conditions” at the top of the past performances or program page. The understanding of race conditions and their importance is a basic handicapping principle that is overlooked by many horseplayers every day. What follows may be too basic for the experienced handicapper, but if reading the conditions of the race is not your first step before handicapping, then you will be well advised to read on.

There are two types of races for horses which have never won: maiden special weight races and maiden claimers. In maiden special weight races (MDSPWT) the runners are not eligible to be claimed, whereas in maiden claimers the horse is “for sale” at the listed claiming price. Not much buying goes on in maiden claiming races, since most horses are not usually worth the asking price. In other words, the horses are usually running at inflated prices. Generally speaking, the winner of a maiden claiming event, i.e. Mdcl $20,000 usually ends up competing at half that price in “open claimers”, $10,000 for example.

It is this reason that a maiden graduate at $20,000 will rarely repeat in its next start for a claiming price of $20,000. In addition, many experienced handicappers will not play a first time starter in a maiden claimer since it indicates a lack of confidence from the owner and trainer. One of the lowest percentage wagers in all of racing is a debut runner in a maiden claiming event.

Some maiden claiming winners and almost all maiden special weight winners will move on to the next condition – the allowance race for “non-winners of two races lifetime” (NW2). In allowance races the horse can not be claimed.

The other entry-level allowance race is for “non-winners of one race other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW1X). There is a big difference between these two allowance conditions, and many people overlook the significance. When a runner drops from a NW1X race to a NW2 allowance affair, take notice. This runner will likely be meeting easier competition because of the way the conditions are written. For example, a claimer with 15 lifetime wins, all in claiming races, is eligible to run in a NW1X allowance race but not a NW2 race. Inexperience is a big factor in any sporting event, so a horse with only one lifetime win is at a disadvantage against horses that have visited the winner’s circle many times, even if those wins came against claimers.

After a horse wins the first allowance condition, they must run in a race for “non-winners of two races other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW2X). Some racetracks write races for non-winners of three races lifetime (NW3L), so this would be the easiest step up for the winner of a NW2 race. If a runner is able to succeed at either of these two levels, then non-winners of three races other than (NW3X) is the next step, or a non-winners of four races lifetime at some tracks (NW4L). A very small percentage of the racehorse population makes it to this level due to the difficulty of the competition.

The final step before stakes competition is either “open allowance” races with no conditions, or allowance races limited to earners of a certain amount of money since a particular date (NW$). Some tracks also write races for “non-winners of two races other than…in 2012″ (NW2Y). There are various ways that these races can be written, but it is important to note that they are the most difficult races to win, with the exception of stakes.

Non-winners of two races lifetime is not only written for allowance races, but also for claimers at many tracks. This is also important to understand, because there is a big difference between a $15,000 claimer for non-winners of two races lifetime and a $15,000 open claimer. A hardknocking horse in the latter race will have little trouble beating a horse running at the conditioned level. As with maiden claiming victors, winners of conditioned claimers (NW2) often have to compete for roughly half the claiming level to succeed against open claimers.

With any of these race conditions, it can be helpful to note the number of attempts a runner has made at a certain level. If a horse has tried a certain type of race more than five times, he will likely need a drop to a lower level in order to win. For example, a runner who has faced NW2 allowance competition six or seven times without winning will need a drop to claiming competition limited to NW2 in order to win. A proven loser at a certain level is a poor bet and must be avoided by both the professional bettor and the casual racegoer.

Analyzing the race conditions should be the first thing that all horseplayers do when they first handicap a race. The race conditions dictate which runners are best suited to the type of race. Horse racing is a big money game and race conditions drive the decisions of track officials, jockey agents, and racehorse trainers. If you overlook the importance of the race conditions, one thing is for sure, you will be left at the gate come post time.

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