05/20/2014 2:39PM

Ask Pete Fornatale: Maiden races - love 'em or hate 'em

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What is your strategy for using maidens in contests?  Avoid them or love them?

Brett Sampson

Dear Brett:

You’ve hit on an excellent topic for discussion here. Maiden races divide a lot of handicappers into “love” and “hate” camps, both in everyday play and contest play. They are such an area of specialty that some contest directors will try to limit their use when selecting mandatory races. In optional formats, some players will go out of their way to play as many maiden races as possible.

Personally, I really like maiden races as they test some of the same skills that your average race does – the ability to find value, for example – but they bring in some different elements as well.

In career terms, a maiden race is the place you’re most likely to find a longshot who is actually the best horse in the race. They are pretty interesting from that perspective alone. That’s not to say that favorites don’t do well in maiden races, but there’s something nice to be said about races where you can still make cogent cases for the longshot winners. For sure, you’ll see occasional crazy longshot win maiden races, but for the most part the longshot maiden winners come with clues.

One area that takes on added importance with maidens is workouts. Some players look at clocker reports, like the ones Mike Welsh and Mike Vesce write here at Daily Racing Form. Other players have become adept at looking at the workouts in past performances and identifying patterns that lead to winners, often at prices.

Some players are breeding experts. In the contest world, Steve Wolfson Sr. stands out in this regard. There are various products, including the dam and sire tools in Formulator, that allow you to get all kinds of information about a horse’s ancestors that can be very helpful when it comes to maiden races (and also first-time turf races, but that’s another article).

For me, I like to use real-time paddock information to help in my handicapping of maiden races in contests. I love seeing the horses up close and have learned over time what a runner looks like. Even at home, you can learn a lot listening to insights from the likes of Maggie Wolfendale on NYRA’s broadcasts or Richard Migliore on HRTV.

Real-time tote information is another variable in maiden races and it’s easy to track yourself. Simply note each horse’s odds at various points during the betting. You are essentially looking for horses taking money early and then drifting up to a playable price. This alone wouldn’t often be enough for me to make a contest play, but it can help, especially when used in conjunction with other maiden race handicapping angles.