Playing the Claiming Game

Here’s a racing trivia question for you. What Hall of Fame rider led a team of his brothers and sisters into battle on Family Feud back in 1981?

Give up?

The answer is Chris McCarron. How did his team do? In one of the most lopsided losses to the Japanese since Pearl Harbor, the Yamaguchi family skunked the McCarron’s, 455-0. I guess they covered the spread.

The things you can learn reading TODAY’S RACING DIGEST!

Claiming races are still the bread and butter that allows any racing office to produce from eight to ten events a day and horseplayers who successfully learn to read trainer intentions in these “selling” contests have the best chance to succeed. Most trainers are rather tight lipped when it comes to actually talking about their claiming stock, for obvious reasons. They want to win races and KEEP the good ones and they want to win races and LOSE the bad ones. However, how they place their horses often speaks volumes and it’s perfectly OK for the bettor to eavesdrop on this very public conversation. Here are some time-honored patterns that often produce positive results.

THE CLAIM/REST/RAISE–An example for several years ago was a perfect example of this maneuver in Ambiguous. Bill Spawr had claimed this 5-year-old April 2 for $16,000 and hadn’t run him back. Nearly two months later, the gelding is doubled jumped in price to the $25,000 level which immediately makes him an interesting horse worthy of further research. Back in his younger days, Ambiguous had won for a $35k tag against 3-year-olds before problems developed. After 14 months off, he ran once for $20k in December, 1998 and then was on the sidelines for another extended vacation before resurfacing at Fairplex for a paltry $6,250 in September, 1999. He won that day to begin a four-race win binge that ended in a Turf Paradise allowance race. He was good enough to run a close 3rd in a little stake in Arizona and then was only beaten two lengths against $40k claimers on a trip to Santa Anita on January 22, so he certainly had the ability to win for $25,000 if right. Spawr had legged him up with some solid five-furlong works and was fortunate to catch a field without much in the way of early pace. The result was a game frontrunning win at nearly 7/1. If the horse wasn’t doing all that well, Spawr could have run him in the $8k to $16k range but the big step up was about as positive a message as the trainer could send to anyone who planned to bet on this race.

Five races later on the program, Bob Hess Jr. had a similar-looking entrant in the 8th, Blue Eyed K.C. He had claimed this filly for $16k at Oak Tree and didn’t run her until March 19 when she raced in a restricted Starter Allowance race for NW2 that had broken their maidens for $40k or less. She was favored at 3/1 in that contest despite the layoff but had stumbled at the break and was forced to chase a solo pacesetter while finishing a distant 2nd. Another 2 1/2 month layoff followed but when she resurfaced Monday, Hess didn’t drop her in class while going, instead, in another Starter affair. Blue Eyed K.C. showed no works between March 31 and May 1 to suggest they were dealing with her problems and then returned to training with some strong works. She won easily at $7.40.

THE MONEY RUN–This move pertains to a horse that has been raced into shape following a lengthy layoff and is now being dropped in class to win a race. In a race several years ago, Majorbigtimesheet fits the M.O. to perfection. This Sahadi-trained horse had been gone from May to March when he returned to run against a group of $125k claimers on the main track. He showed some speed before finishing a decent 5th behind the likes of Full Moon Madness, Apremont and Love All The Way, some very nice sprinters. Sahadi then ran him for $100k on turf and he again showed some early run before fading in a strong event. The two preps figured to have him legged up for his best effort but in order to ensure that he could get the job done, the Carson City offspring was now dropped back to the $62,500 level to face a different breed of cat going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Under smooth handling from Family Feud failure McCarron, Majorbigtimesheet rallied inside and scored at $11.20. The first two races back were just warm ups for “the money run”.

In a race a few days later, G L’s Gold Strike also fit the pattern. This sophomore gelding had beaten maiden claimers for $32k back on March 31 after more than a year off and then was mismatched in two events, the most recent a 2-turn turf race for $62,500 May 17. Ten days later, trainer Caesar Dominguez returned him to a dirt sprint and cut the asking price from the unreasonable $62.5 to a far more comfy $25k. The result was a victory at $8.60.

THE WIN-AND-RAISE MOVE–A horse that wins and is then raised in claiming price is often a good play since the trainer (particularly a winning one) is showing confidence in the horse. King of Swing in a race several years ago had scored a narrow downhill turf win for $40k at Santa Anita April 23 and Richard Mandella was now returning him to the $50k level where he’d been beaten twice recently. The only other entrant in the field to have won its most recent start was Gypsiesinthepalace who tallied for $50k May 12 and was returning at the same class level (despite an increase of $5k on his individual claiming price). The public made that one the 5/2 favorite but it was King of Swing who made the winning move at $9.80.

On the next Sunday’s Race, Richard Matlow jumped easy-debut winner Retired Habit up into a Starter race after he breezed home over $32k maiden claiming Cal-breds in his May 5 bow. He clearly was fast enough to beat his rivals in the race and the placement by Matlow was a positive message since he obviously didn’t want to sell this Mr. Integrity gelding just yet. Retried Habit was a standout at 5/2 and throttled his foes on the pace at $7.40.

THE POPULAR CLAIM–Horses that are constantly changing hands among good trainers are always worth a look. Jack Carava lost the veteran Bold Capital for $32k at Santa Anita several years ago when Craig Lewis took the 9¬¨year-old with an eye on the upcoming Hollywood session where the gelding has become a folk hero with 12 career victories. He failed to win at 6/5 when Lewis ran him back for the same $32k tag but Carava was there to re-halter his old pro. Many observers felt that Bold Capital had probably lost some steps at this stage of his career and that he would need to drop in class to resume his winning ways. That’s why he was 3/1 against a rather modest group of $40k claimers on Saturday but he won like his old self at $8.60 and could be very hard to deny on the raise next time out as well.

Winners like these are not hard to find at any racetrack across the country. Just remember to stick to trainers who know how to win races, demand some degree of value and seek out evidence to suggest these suspects are looking to steal a race.

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