Playing The Age Game

It’s now spring and we all know where a young man’s fancy turns when the weather warms up and the girls start dressing to suit the occasion.  The testosterone level soars, the mind tends to wander a bit and guys start hanging out at parks, at beaches and even the malls to see what they can see.  It’s just how the birds-and-the-bees act plays out year in and year out.  And, after all, there’s nothing wrong with looking since that’s what the girls want anyway.

For horseracing, the spring is also a time of change.  The two-year-olds start to appear and older and younger stock begin to mix it up on the track.  You know, three-year-olds facing four-year-olds and other more-mature runners.  They’ve already run the first “baby” race at the Santa Anita meeting and it may have gone unnoticed by most last week when the racing office started to card events with “three-year-olds-and-up” in the conditions.  The trend starts slowly but as time goes on, younger and older horses will be facing each other on an increasing basis.

This seems as good a time as any to offer a few generalizations when it comes to analyzing these situations.  When is a three­year-old at a disadvantage against older foes and when might it hold the upper hand?  Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
STRAIGHT MAIDENS – The three-year-old with a fancy pedigree, a high auction price and potential will generally beat the older horse that has tried and failed to graduate multiple times. This is particularly true when it comes to the older horse that lost against four-year-olds-and-up at low odds.  They have had their chance and they disappointed.  Advantage – younger.

MAIDEN CLAIMING RACES ($40K AND UP) – When maidens race for a high claiming tag, the younger ones are generally the superior investments.  They are still figuring out where they belong and their connections haven’t given up yet.  Older maidens, on the other hand, have often tried and failed on multiple occasions and, for many, there just isn’t much improvement likely based on the maturation process. Advantage – younger.

MAIDEN CLAIMING RACES ($30K AND BELOW) – Sophomores offered up in races like this are likely to find the competition much stiffer than they’ve been facing in races restricted to their own age group.  Now, we’re talking about bottom-level non-winners where what you see is generally what you get.  Even older bridesmaid types will usually have more ability than their younger brethren.  Advantage – older.

RESTRICTED CLAIMING RACES – If they were defeated in a NW2 field against three-year-olds, the sophomore will rarely beat older types that have been competing at the same condition for the same claiming price.  The connections have already told anyone interested that they don’t think much of their former Derby hopefuls while the older horses have been knocking heads against tougher stock and would like nothing better than to land in a field made up strictly of three-year-old claimers.  Advantage – older.

OPEN CLAIMING RACES – Again, the sophomore is at an extreme disadvantage when they tackle older.  Even if the claiming price is dropped, the younger horse is probably moving way, way up in class.  Advantage – older.

STARTER ALLOWANCE RACES – This level can be tricky.  A three-year-old might have graduated early in their career when the trainer decided to slip a talented sort by for a tag.  Now, they want to protect their investment and go into a race where their charge can’t be claimed.  On the other hand, the horse might have scored in a weak event against its own age group and the connections merely want to give it a “look see” before putting it up for a tag again.  It’s generally best to simply approach these horses on an individual basis and go from there.  Advantage – push.

ALLOWANCE RACES – In entry-level allowance heats, the younger horse still has the most potential and, probably, more talent than the older horse that has been unable to escape the first condition and move on.  Advantage – younger. However, as they are asked to move up into higher-level optional claiming events, the older type with proven form is generally the better play, particularly on the grass.  Advantage – older.

HANDICAPS/STAKES – You won’t see many sophomores go against older stakes horses until the fall and, even then, it’s the veterans who have the advantage in most instances.  Even the Triple Crown players from the spring will be moving up when they find themselves in “open” stakes company.  That doesn’t mean that a Rachel Alexandra can’t beat older males in a Grade I race, or that a Curlin or a Tiznow can’t win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it just means that they better be a truly top-class race horse if they’re going to succeed. Advantage – older.

There is nothing written in stone here but these guidelines should help when it comes to putting age before beauty or vice versa.

From “the-how-can-you-make-so-many-mistakes-in-one-column” department.  Last week, I wrote that handicappers “are taxed by the state when they bet”.  Well, they’re not.  Mike Marten, public information officer for the CHRB, writes: “There is no longer a pari-mutuel tax.  All takeout now goes primarily to purses, track commissions, host fees and satellite fees, plus an assortment of distributions to breeders and owner incentives, testing at Davis and so forth. The state does get a few million from fines levied against licensees and from occupation licenses (trainers, owners, pari-mutuel clerks, etc.)”.

I was shocked to hear this but, then, I guess that’s why all those state legislators don’t give a darn about the handle, or lack thereof, at California tracks.
Also, TVG reports that Frank Lyons and Frank Mirahmadi were not laid off by the station as reported in DAILY RACING FORM (twice) and here in TODAY’S RACING DIGEST (just once).  Actually, that’s kind of good news.