“Maiden Claimers on Turf”
by Steven Schwartz
This time about 2 years ago I was alive to a huge Pick 5 going into the 5th race. I was alive to 6 of the 9 horses and was already counting my money. The payouts were between 12k and 55k and I had $.50 tickets and $2 tickets and I had no doubt that I would be taking a trip to the IRS window. After all, the only 3 horses that could beat me looked horrendous in the past performances. The 5th race that day was a Maiden Claimer on turf which is a race I did not have a lot of confidence in which is why I spread. As the race went off, I was so excited because I knew I was going to cash it was now just a matter of how much I would cash for. The 3 horses that I did not have on my tickets finished 1st, 2nd & 4th. This beat hit me so hard I barely played the last 4 races on the card. It bothered me so much I studied the race again over and over trying to figure out what I missed. The following week another long shot won a Maiden Claimer on Turf and it got me to start thinking if this was more the norm than an anomaly.
I decided to track Maiden Claimers on turf and went back 2 years in all of the NYRA tracks (Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga). What I found out absolutely shocked me and changed how I played multi-race bets forever. After doing research, I found out that the average winner in this race pays just over $22. That means on average the winner is a 10-1 shot. Think about that for a second. Of course favorites win from time to time as they are supposed to but quite often this is the type of race where you will find your $100 horse. In fact I now call this race the Rick Ankiel race.
Rick Ankiel was a top pitching prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 2000s. He was a lefty who threw the ball in the high 90’s who look like he was destined for stardom. Then it happened: he got the “Yips”. This once “can’t miss prospect” could not find the plate (you tube him in the NLCS playoff game against the Mets. It was depressing to watch). St Louis, had no choice but to send him back to the minors. Once in the minors, he again could not find the plate and it looked like this top prospect was one step away from being out of baseball. St. Louis could either give up on their top prospect or try something else. They decide to do the latter and make him an everyday center fielder. This decision, which is rare for an organization to make, turned out to be just what Ankiel needed. He was able to relax and made it back to the majors and became a decent power hitter who was a gold glove type defender with a rocket of an arm. This decision most likely saved his career as he seemed like he was never going to work out as a pitcher.
Maiden Claimers on turf are very similar to Rick Ankiel in that they all are trying a change to save their racing careers. A 40k turf Maiden Claimer is equivalent to a 20k Maiden Claimer on the dirt. If you look at horses that enter these races they are often fit into a couple of categories:
- Horses who have tried running on turf at the Maiden Special Weight level but without any success
- Horses who have only run on dirt before
- Horses who tried the turf originally, switched to the dirt and now back on turf
When handicapping MCL on turf it is important to look at their entire racing history and you may have to go very deep into their form to find a race that makes them a contender here. I almost immediately toss out any horse that fits into the 1st category (unless trained by Chad Brown). The reason is that these horses are often huge underlays and although they win from time to time you will never win in the long run betting these horses. They are usually the favorites in the race and although they win from time to time they are rarely are worth the wager.
The 2nd category can be profitable as they are usually overlays but must meet certain criteria to include. The horse must have either endured a rough trip or have been bet decently. The horse should also have some turf pedigree. A prime example of this was back on June 23rd when Undercutter won at 64-1 odds. Although he was not the likeliest winner you had to be crazy to throw him off your multi-race tickets. It was his first race on turf after getting bet well (10-1) during his first race in dirt where he encountered a ton of trouble. In a race like this, you have to look for excuses on your long shots and Undercutter had plenty despite only running for the 2nd time (1st on turf). The same thing happened 2 days later when Lucky Town paid $75 to win in his 4th career race. His first 3 races looked like this:
Race 1- MSW on dirt – Troubled Trip
Race 2- MSW on dirt – Eased
Race 3 – Maiden Claimer on dirt – Ran 5th after chasing pace.
The 3rd category is also a profitable one but a little tougher to identify. These are horses that tried the turf but were unsuccessful either due to a tough trip or were outclassed. The trainer then tries something new for awhile and when they are unsuccessful try the turf again. If they only ran once or twice on the turf they have a chance to improve on the turf and their form is “dirtied up” since they did not have a real look on the turf.
This happens often in NY because turf racing is not year round and trainers do not want to ship horses down south due to the tougher competition. What ends up happening is they run on the turf at Belmont and then when Aqueduct meet comes around, they have no choice but to run the horse on dirt. When given another chance at Belmont they can show considerable progress. They will go off as overlays because the dirt form looks so bad.
This write-up is not meant for you to identify one horse to bet in a maiden race, but it can help you catch a huge Pick 4 or 5 or even a 20-1 shot in the trifecta (like Irish Hope on June 25th). That huge bad beat I had two years ago has allowed me to catch many 5-figure payouts where this class of race is the one that “pays me off”. If it causes you go to go a bit deeper in your Multi-race bets you may be upset that you now have to risk more. But look at the payoffs and look at the historical data. It is worth it.
Sometimes a change is all you need. Ask Rick Ankiel.