Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't Be Scared of the Maiden!

Springtime in Kentucky. The dogwoods are blooming and the crowds are gathering for the annual springtime festival at Keeneland. The dogwoods aren’t the only beautiful thing blooming in Kentucky. Precocious two year olds are ready to be unveiled during opening day at Keeneland.

Although Kentucky Derby hype is reaching fever pitch, let’s turn our focus to the most difficult type of race to handicap, the two year old maiden race.

The majority of handicappers avoid maiden races like a communicable disease, but there are ways to determine live horses in these races and doing your homework can potentially pay off with big bucks.

Pedigree is one of the most important factors in handicapping early maiden races. A working knowledge of which sires and damsires get winners first time out is invaluable. To make things a little easier for the poor beleaguered horseplayer I have created a list of sires whose offspring win at 18% or more first time out.

Don’t forget to look at the records of the dam and siblings. Many past performance papers and software include information on the dams and siblings of the first time starter. Dams that have blacktype (stakes wins) or siblings with stakes victories are a strong sign of class.

Become familiar with the auction abbreviations, such as OBS, KEE, BARR, FTF. Look at the sales prices of two year olds in training. Speed sells and these babies do well in the very early maiden races.

Pedigree isn’t the only tool in the arsenal of the handicapper contemplating a maiden race. Below are a few dependable tips to remember.

First, a first time maiden in the 1 post is usually not a good bet. They tend to break in or become intimidated on the rail. Some will be used coming out of the gate in sprint races to grab the lead. A good horse can sustain it, but most will fold in the stretch. Additionally, the opposite it true. A horse breaking from the far outside post will often break to the right, losing valuable ground while his jockey sorts him out.

Second, a horse adding two or more furlongs against horses with previous experience at the race distance is suspect unless the horse has several solid stamina works of at least 5 furlongs or longer. That just sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many trainers don't give their horses longer works and prefer to rely on long gallops.
Third, the majority of maidens tend to regress, even slightly, in their next race out. This doesn't mean they cannot win while regressing; it's just something to be aware of when the horse is facing winners for the first time. I find this to be true even with horses that have taken two or three tries to break their maiden. Some horses, mainly stakes caliber, will actually move forward off of their maiden race. How do you find them? Look at their works.

Fourth, look at the works. A horse that has fired a 4 furlong bullet when there are at least five or more works at that distance is live, especially a first time starter. A horse with a "live" work pattern (fast/slow/fast) of 4 furlongs and up is also live. This is especially true of horses from conservative barns that normally don't win first time out. If their horses are working in the top five, it's a good bet the horse will finish in the money. Often these horses go off at attractive odds. Look closely at the works of a horse making it's first start after breaking it's maiden. If the works aren't as fast as, or faster then before he broke his maiden, it's a good bet he won't move forward.

Fifth, look at trainer and trainer/jockey stats. As noted, some trainers don't win first time out. The reverse is opposite too. Some trainers excel with precocious babies. Unfortunately, everyone knows who they are and often their horses go off at short odds.

Sixth, be wary of a horse trying to do two or more different things in a race. Shipping, new distance, first time facing winners and new surfaces should all be taken into account. How many times have you seen a horse who has broken their maiden impressively, then ship in for a stakes race at a longer distance, go off at short odds and finish out of the money?

Seventh, there is nothing like experience. In a field with mostly first timers, if there are a couple of horses with experience, keep an eye on them. Even if they finished out of the money in their first attempts, they are better prepared than the rest. This holds true with a horse that ran out of the money first time out, then didn't start again for more than a month. Often the baby needs time to grow and will be better next out.

Photo: Barbara Livnigston
Last, - but more important than the other rules - races aren’t won on paper. Learn the language of the horse. In the world of internet gambling, you are at the mercy of the cameraman and can’t always to see the horses in the paddock or post parade, but when one plays a maiden race, it is crucial to see how the horses are behaving. Or not. A little sweat never hurt anyone, especially on a hot, humid day. A first time runner looking like a shampoo commercial can be tossed. So can the horse with the rolling eyeballs and looks like he’d rather be anywhere but here. Look for a horse that has a bounce in his step, he’s eager, on the muscle (dragging his groom all over the place) yet not kicking, rearing or causing general havoc. There’s a shine to his coat and you can tell he’s having a good day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New King On The Block

clip_image002Recently, 2010 Kentucky Derby contender Pleasant Prince (Indy King – Archduchess, by Pleasant Tap) was a whisker shy of winning all of the gold in the Florida Derby. The long striding colt fought hard to the wire and many, including his initially jubilant owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, thought he had won the battle for first place. So far the handsome chestnut has improved his speed figures in every start this year, indicating that he’s improving at the right time. Pleasant Prince may not have enough graded stakes earnings to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but he could be a legitimate factor in the Preakness Stakes (G-1)
clip_image002[5]This is good news for the connections of his royally bred sire Indy King (A.P. Indy – Queena, by Mr. Prospector). The striking chestnut stallion was a $2,200,000 yearling purchase by Adena Springs Farm and he has a beautiful conformation with substantial size and scope reminiscent of many A.P. Indy sons. Unfortunately, he was injured before making his racing debut and now stands for the very modest fee of $1,000 at Richwine Farm in Indiana.
Indy King’s sire A.P. Indy is a well known international sire of sires. The majority of his sons standing at stud continue to pass along the stamina oriented genes of two Triple Crown Champions Seattle Slew and Secretariat. Indy King is bred along
the same lines as A.P. Indy’s best son at stud, Pulpit, as well as Mineshaft and new sires Congrats and A.P. Arrow. Indy King’s stud career may eventually duplicate that of Malibu Moon, an up and coming son of A.P. Indy out of a Group 1 Stakes winning Mr. Prospector mare. Malibu Moon originally stood for $3,000 before proving his worth. He now resides at Spendthrift Farm and commands a stud fee of $40,000.
clip_image002[8]Indy King’s dam Queena (Mr. Prospector – Too Chic, by Blushing Groom) was the named the champion 1991 older mare after capturing the Vagrancy Handicap (G-3), Ballerina Stakes (G-1), Ruffian Stakes (G-1) and Maskette Stakes (G-1) which was renamed the Genuine Risk Stakes. Her victories came from seven furlongs to 1 1/6 miles. Queena was no slouch In the breeding shed either. She produced Indy King’s full sister La Reina, a Grade 3 winning miler who was in the money 13 of 20 starts, earning over $350,000. She also begat their half brothers, Hollywood Derby (G-1T) winning sire Brahms and stakes winner Olympic.
Queena’s family is full of class. Her full sister Chic Shrine won the Ashland Stakes (G-1) and is the dam of two Grade 2 winners. She is also the grand dam of Grade 1 winner Serra Lake, multiple Stakes winner Cappuchino and 2010 Kentucky Derby nominee Soaring Empire. Indy King’s second dam Too Chic was also a Grade 1 winner and his third dam Remedia and fourth dam Mondade are Rene de Courses (superior mares).
clip_image002[10]Like Pulpit and Mineshaft, Indy King should match well with a variety of bloodlines. The first cross that comes to mind is the sire line of Northern Dancer (Hennessy, El Prado, Deputy Minister, Nijinsky, Danzig, Dixieland Band, and Storm Cat). Breeding back to the Mr. Prospector line could work, but adding additional bloodlines from other sons of Raise a Native (Alydar, Exclusive Native, Majestic Prince and Native Royalty) or the 13-c distaff family (Myrtlewood, Miss Dogwood, Sequence or Gold Digger) could be even better, as his sire is proven with mares by sons of Affirmed, Majestic Light, and Alydar. Indy King should also cross well with sons of Hail to Reason (Halo, Roberto, Stop the Music). The Blushing Groom (Rahy, Mt. Livermore) bloodline is also proven with A.P. Indy sons, and of course, the great old bloodline of Ribot through his son Pleasant Colony and great son Pleasant Tap have produced winners. Indy King has a statebred champion out of a Holy Bull mare, and this match has also proved profitable for other A.P. Indy sons.
Indy King entered stud in 2004 and has sired four crops of racing age. From only 111 foals he’s gotten 1 state bred champion, Indy Joe, two stakes winners and one Grade 1 stake placed runner. 55% of his foals have entered the starting gate and 33% of them reached the wire first. Indy King provides a fair to good return on the investment considering his stud fee. It appears he has improved the limited book of mares that have been bred to him. His foals are usually late-developing two year olds who improve with age and some distance.