01/07/2013 11:08AM

Bergman: Finding hidden class drops at the Meadowlands

Meadowlands racing secretary Peter Koch

If it were only as easy as A-B-C.

There are only five racing programs complete at the Meadowlands in its 2013 season and already praise is being lauded on the “competitiveness” of the racing product. The rise in handle has been a welcome surprise and there’s reason for hope that actual momentum will continue.

Last week I touched on the large supply of horses racing secretary Peter Koch has at his disposal and we’ve seen in this short period of time just how adept Koch is at the seeding process. Only with a large supply does a man in Koch’s position have the ability to take 20 horses of a relatively similar stature and create two 10-horse fields of equal handicapping difficulty.

The residue of Koch’s race make-up design is what handicappers need to take advantage of. On this past Friday’s Meadowlands program, those who were able to understand what a “hidden-drop” in class means were able to capitalize to the tune of a $19 and a $28 winning selection.

During the first week of racing action, Koch had to split trotters in two divisions of his A-2 class. Most handicappers make the natural assumption that all A-2s are created equally. Well, perhaps Koch created them to be equal but they clearly were not to each other. In the first A-2 division raced on Dec. 28, one A-2 Trot was won by All About Justice in a snappy 1:54 2/5 mile while the other went to The Budster in 1:56 2/5. The difference in final time is always a useful tool in separating class. Though those who wish to do their homework may find that faster miles are generally produced when a greater amount of class horses contest the pace. Such was the case in the All About Justice race where the first quarter was trotted in :27 2/5 with a few horses looking for the lead. In The Budster’s division, the opening quarter was waltzed in a pedestrian :29 1/5 as a majority of the field grabbed leather at the outset.

For week two of the Meadowlands season, Koch’s entry box swelled especially in the A-2 rankings. The impressive supply of horses allowed him to add an additional A-2 trot to Friday’s program. It also allowed him to divide those divisions in an attempt to make each race that much more difficult to handicap.

The ninth race field of 10 on Friday had three horses coming out of The Budster’s race and only two horses - Ice Machine and Wind Surfer - coming out of the All About Justice division. Ice Machine had cut the entire pace while finishing fifth in that race while Wind Surfer was a non-factor racing from behind. Ice Machine drew post eight while Wind Surfer landed post 10.

Ice Machine went off at 8.50-1 while Sea Raven, third in the weaker division a week earlier, was sent off at 6-1 from post three. The reason for our comparison is simply to point out that gamblers tend to favor horses closing in the stretch rather than losing ground (as Ice Machine did). They did so in this race despite the fact that Ice Machine was responsible for a faster pace and trotted nearly two full seconds faster than Sea Raven the week before.

Obviously class is only one factor in handicapping, but considering the fact that the races are now being put together by one man, and not determined by money won over a particular period of time, class becomes that much more significant.

Just two races after Ice Machine scored at a juicy $19 mutuel, young Joe Bongiorno guided Mojarra Hanover to a $28.60 upset in a B-1 event for fillies and mares. The six-year-old pacing mare was a solid closing second on December 28 in the faster of two divisions for this class. Her mile was paced in 1:53 while the other division was considerably slower being timed in 1:54 2/5.

Again, handicappers veered away from Mojarra Hanover. While making Elleofnxample, a winner in the B-2 class a week earlier as the favorite, the one to beat on the tote board. In addition, punters made three mares coming out of the cheaper division a week earlier, lower propositions than Mojarra Hanover in this contest, despite the fact that the Bongiorno-driven mare had landed the pole position.

Unlike the Ice Machine race, there was only one division of the B-1 carded on Friday night, leaving the draw more to chance than any construct of the racing secretary.

For those looking to take advantage of these hidden drops, it’s wise to analyze the splits in divisions. When more than one division of a class is carded, don’t wait for the races to be run before assuming which was the tougher. Analyze the horses based on recent performance as well as the purse level those efforts were achieved at. It’s always a good idea to divide money won in a particular year by the number of starts, that’s generally a clear measure of the type of competition a horse has competed at.

Try to grade the races before and then see if the race you suspected as tougher proved to be faster as well. It’s always easiest to spot the differences in race time, but time in and of itself is not always proof of class.

Remember, horsemen also know when their horses are in the easier or tougher division. Earlier this week trainer Kevin McDermott entered two horses in the A-2 class for this past Saturday nights races. He told me that he thought Village Beat had a good chance because the horse had drawn into the easier of the two divisions. He proved right as Village Beat, a 5-1 proposition, raced under intense pressure and was just outkicked on the wire by a very sharp pocket-sitter. Though McDermott’s opinion was on the money as far as his horse was concerned, both A-2 races were timed in an identical 1:51 1/5, making it near impossible for the handicapper looking for next week’s winners to separate the horses.

For those wishing to find and exploit hidden drops in the future, you have to understand that there is significant homework involved. You must keep track when more than one division of a race is programmed. You must also analyze the make-up of the race you will be betting on. Most important you don’t want to invest on a horse with absolutely no form just because he receives a hidden drop in company.

At the Meadowlands I generally prefer horses that have shown speed on their own. What that means is either a horse cutting the pace, attacking first over, or passing horses on the outside. Don’t accept those animals that just track a fast pace and make no specific moves.

Here’s hoping that Peter Koch continues to have the surplus of stock that will yield hidden drops in the future, it’s a valuable long shot angle.