Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Only a small percentage of horses win their first start, but that doesn’t mean that maiden voyage around a racetrack should be ignored. More often than not, there are important signals about a horse’s ability wrapped into that debut – though sometimes you have to peel away some layers to find it.
Keening seemed like a run of the mill maiden when she made her career debut on May 12 at Churchill Downs in a six-furlong sprint. She was sent off at 12-1 odds and was seventh at every call – including the finish – in a field of eight.
There’s not much like to there, right?
Well, what happened after Keening’s initial start was indeed noteworthy and more beneficial to handicappers than what took place in her bland debut.
Just 11 days after that poor start, she rebounded to record a quick 47 2/5-seconds work at Keeneland that was the fastest of 19 horses who worked on that day at the distance. She even followed that up promising work with a fast 48 seconds blowout on June 1.
Next she was entered in a mile maiden special weight race on June 16 at Churchill Downs, which was intriguing because of her breeding. As a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, it made sense that she would want more distance than six furlongs.
Putting it all together, the fast workouts after her career debut and a longer distance for her second start that suited her pedigree indicated Keening’s initial start was just batting practice and she would be swinging for the fences next time.
Those that picked up on those hints collected on their wagers when a far more formidable Keening took the lead at the start, relinquished it briefly in the stretch, and then rallied to win by half-length at 7-1 odds.
THE LESSON: In judging a horse’s debut performance, there are times when what happens after that start is more important than what happened in the race itself.