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Probably the biggest shock of a change of class for a horse is going from maiden races to claiming or allowance races. The reason is that every horse after maiden has won at least one race, and presumably knows how to win. For a young horse this move up in rank is potentially very radical, depending, of course, on how long it took to “graduate” out of the maiden ranks.
Another shock is moving from state-restricted races to “open company” races, where horses from anyplace are welcome. The state-restricted races are designed to encourage breeding in the states in question, and the competition is usually not as stiff as in open company. Before relying on a horse’s prior performances, note if they were state-restricted, as that might cause a rethinking of the evaluation.
If a sprinter shows the ability to last in a longer race by keeping up the speed, but saving some energy to see the race through (“stretching out”), then that horse is a strong prospect for running a winning race. Likewise, if a sprinter enters a route race and shows that the running habits appropriate to the shorter distances still prevail, the horse is likely to tire before the wire.
If a sprinter has done reasonably well at, say 7 furlongs, but has been moved by the trainer to a 6 furlong race, the result may be very positive. The likelihood is that the horse will have yet more energy to expend in the shorter distance. This angle does not always apply to a route racer going into sprint, unless it’s an obvious speed horse, as the habit of “pacing” the expenditure of energy may cause the horse not to go “all out” on a shorter distance.
Though typically not considered part of trip handicapping, close observation of the horse after finishing a race can yield good information for the next time out. If the horse keeps running, showing that he was not out of gas and that he was enjoying himself in the race, this is positive for handicapping the next race. If the horse “crashes,” he may not have the moxie to run the whole race next time.
If a horse is “eased” in the race, that is, quits before the finish line, it can be a bad sign for later races. Many handicappers regard the inability to complete the race as a sign of physical injury or personality flaw (for example, “spitting the bit” out of temper rather than fatigue). Knowing why the horse failed to finish is important, as it may not be attributable to the horse. An example would be an equipment problem. Just as trip handicapping can help find over-lays because of information not in the public’s hands, having an explanation for a failure to finish might allow handicapping that will find value in betting.
A horse that wins a race with a relatively low Beyer may be discounted by some handicappers because he ran slowly. This would be correct and appropriate for a horse other than the leader, as the assumption would be that the horse (and jockey) were trying for the maximum possible speed. But a winning horse with a low Beyer should not necessarily be punished for running a relatively slow race. After all, crossing the finish line first is all that is required. There was no other horse out in front of him to stimulate him to push hard. Therefore, the handicapper needs to conclude in such a circumstance whether the low Beyer is deserved or just a reflection that speed was not necessary to win the race.
Owners are sometimes passive, appearing only for photo opportunities in winning circles. Many, however, are fully engaged, in conjunction with the trainer, in evaluating the career progress of a horse and in taking the decisions to make the most out of each race candidate. Owners pay the cost of keeping the horse in training and entered in races during its climb up the ladder. This is not cheap. A few lucky or skilled owners may actually make money from a very successful horse, but in general, being an owner requires love of the sport and the species, as the monetary risks are high. The importance of the owner to the development of the horse is reflected in the fact that handicappers consider it relevant if a horse has an owner known for breeding and training winners. And to the degree that pedigree matters in finding winners – and it matters greatly – then knowing and recognizing good breeders is part of understanding which are the winning horses on any given race day.