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Ellis Starr

Syndicated Thoroughbred Handicapper

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Maidens and Maiden Claiming Races - Some Ideas
by Ellis Starr

On any given day at a track, there are some maiden and/or maiden claiming races. Confusing to some, impossible to handicap for others, many players prefer to skip them. Therein lies the rub, because if you decide to skip these events you may be left with few playable races on the day. However, with just a few basic concepts that I hope to impart here, maiden and maiden claiming races might produce some nice profits for you.

Maiden and maiden claiming races are similar in some respects, but in many they are not. One thing that is very important in the handicapping process to both is the concept of class.

In Maiden allowance races, (also called maiden special weight or straight maiden), horses that have run in maiden claiming races can almost always be eliminated. The reasons are simple business. Most trainers know the value of their horses, and if they either enter their horses in a maiden claiming race at any time, that establishes the horses class. As opposed to open (horses that have won a race) races, in which horses can and do successfully go up in class, the class ladder in maiden claiming races only goes down. Occasionally a maiden claiming level horse can beat maiden allowance foes, but it is a rarity, and eliminating horses as win contenders that have competed in maiden claiming races if today's race is a maiden allowance race makes the handicapping process proceed much more quickly.

In maiden claiming races, the concept of class within the maiden ranks also applies, and I nearly always eliminate as win contenders any horse that has raced at a lower maiden claiming level then it is competing at today.

After we have eliminated some horses, we next have the issue of first time starters to deal with. As with any athletic event, it is often much better to have recent experience, or some experience at all, before trying something new. It is the same with horses, with the one caveat that some trainers are exceptional at getting horses ready to win in their first starts. We can find those trainers rather easily by using the trainers record with first time starters available in TrackMaster Plus.


Of course, we are often presented with many races in which most or all of the contenders are first time starters, and in that case the experience of the few that have raced previously is of paramount importance.

The eighth race at Santa Anita on Sunday October 28 is a prime example of many of the concepts above. Presented with a twelve horse field of maiden fillies running for a $32,000 claiming price, the field consisted of five first time starters, two second time starters, four horses that had lost more than once in maiden claiming company previously, and (#2 Shedrowchampagne) who was dropping from maiden allowance company, but whose trainer Fred Wilson (using the trainer statistics available in TrackMaster Plus) had not won a race in 2 years so she was discarded using the "Hide" feature of TrackMaster Plus.

Two horses (#7 Lucky Melody & #11 Excessively Happy) had run at the $25,000 maiden claiming level and were discarded because they no longer belonged at the $32,000 level.


After those three eliminations using the hide command in TrackMaster Plus there were 9 horses to consider. The first time starters were looked at next, noting the two (#5 Be Nice & #8 Tiz a Bold One) saddled by trainers that have proven form with first time starters. Michael Machowsky, trainer of Be Nice, had 30 first time starters going back to 1/1/00 with 13% winners, which was above average for this field. Donald Warren, trainer of Tiz A Bold One had 13% winners from 38 first time starters over the same period, also decent enough. The other three (#3 Miss Belrose, #4 What Was That & #6 Darling Kris) were eliminated as their trainer's combined record with first time starters over the same period was 3 for 58.


Now there were 6 contenders.

Before looking closer at the two first time starters (#5 Be Nice and #8 Tiz A Bold One), the focus shifted to those that had run, particularly those that had run once, because horses are athletes and gain something as they race. Until they have proven incapable or unwilling to continue to improve, lightly raced maidens are to be thought of highly. If the horses that have run once or twice appear to be improving, and are in good trainer's hands, we must look at them very hard.

The two horses that had one start each were #12 Stevia & #9 Mishi. Stevia had run 4th in a field of 8 in her debut, while Mishi had run second in a field of 9. Both seemed very capable of improving, and were in excellent hands. Jeff Mullins, who according to the TrackMaster Plus trainer stats had won with 26% of his maiden starters, a very high figure, trained Stevia. The jockey was journeyman Eddie Delahoussaye. Mishi was trained by Craig Lewis and ridden by Jose Valdivia, another dependable jockey and trainer.


The other two horses that had raced were eliminated. #1 Slew Summer had run 3rd after leading most of the way as the 2/1 favorite in her last start. That did not bode well for her chances today. #10 Lady Strikes Back was a loser 8 times in her career, with no excuses in her last three races, and so she was also ignored.

Since the horses that had raced before had an advantage over those that had never raced, Stevia and Mishi were assigned 25% probability to win each, which is the same as 3/1 fair odds. If one of those two were to scratch I would substitute one of the two that had not yet run, also with fair odds of 3/1.

Near post time, Stevia was 9/2 on the tote board and Mishi was 4/1. Both being overlays from fair odds, both were bet to win, with an exacta box between the two.


When the race began, two of the inexperienced first time starters, Tiz a Bold One and What Was That, dueled on the lead through a sizzling opening quarter in 21.6 seconds. The more experienced Mishi sat in third, got to the lead turning for home and drew off. Stevia, who had fallen back to tenth early, rallied to pass all but the winner and finished second.

Mishi had closed at 7/2 and paid $9.20. The exacta between the two paid a handsome $51.40 ($2 ticket).

Remember, handicapping maiden and maiden claiming races can often be as simple as eliminating the non-contenders and determining the fair odds for win bets on the remaining horses. After reading this, hopefully you will be less prone to just turn the page in your past performance product or program when the class reads "Maiden" in the race text. Good luck at the races.

Ellis' detailed selections and analysis for various racetracks throughout the country can be found at The Winners' Circle (a service of TrackMaster - An Equibase Company)