Photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photos
The claiming game is hardly the glamorous side of Thoroughbred racing. It’s much closer to the bread-and-butter that sustains the sport on a daily basis.
As a result, understanding the claiming game is a necessity for anyone serious about handicapping the races on a daily basis – though there’s a Grand Canyon of difference in the ways handicappers and horsemen view it.
As one might expect, there’s a huge difference between placing $10 to win on a horse and shelling out $25,000 to purchase it, yet there are lessons handicappers can learn from monitoring the claim box.
In general terms, the fact that someone thinks enough of a horse to claim it is a positive sign for a handicapper. Somebody clearly liked something in that horse, and studying its PP’s to find out exactly what that is can be highly rewarding.
For example, a horse that gets claimed 3 or 4 straight times is clearly in excellent form and deserves backing at the mutual windows, provided its new connections do not place it too ambitiously.
There’s also much to like in a horse that is reclaimed by his old connections. Since most owners and trainers move on after one of their horses is claimed, there had to be something those people liked about the horse if they are willing to re-open their wallet for the cash to buy back.
Above all, though, placement is the key to success in the claiming game and understanding why a horse is entered in a certain race is an important part of the puzzle.
A horse might win for a $12,500 claiming tag and then resurface for in a $20,000 race. Why? Because the horse is in great form and can handle the class jump? Maybe. Perhaps it’s because the $16,000 race, the logical progression for that horse, did not attract enough starters to be used on a particular day’s card and the $20,000 race was the best available option.
Trying to interpret a horseman’s intentions can be tricky, but sometimes the message is pretty clear to read.
Take a horse that is claimed for $30,000. Two months later that horse races again, this time for $16,000. It terms of class, that horse should be head and shoulders better than anyone else in the field.
But looking at the financial consequences can paint a different picture of a dropdown.
Let’s say that $16,000 race has a $20,000 purse. If the dropdown wins, the owner will get $12,000 minus 10 percent shares of the purse to the trainer and jockey. That adds up to about $9,600.
Meanwhile, a top trainer in an area like New York can charge a $90 a day rate for caring for the horse. That’s $5,400 for two months of training.
So, in dropping that horse from $30,000 to $16,000 company, an owner is willing to lose $10,000 – at best – to part ways with that horse. Still want to bet on that horse?
Now perhaps that horse will win by three lengths as an even-money favorite, but there are certainly better ways to double your $2 than backing a horse with an array of red flags trying to steer you away.
And that’s the name of the game – the claiming game.