06/03/2007 11:00PM

Beware of any first-time claim trying something new


Trainer Jane Cibelli wins at a solid rate across the board, but there are a couple of situations where horses from her barn deserve an especially long look.

Cibelli's best short-term percentages are with horses making their first start off the claim (5 wins from last 10 such starters), and with horses taking blinkers off (4 wins from last 9 runners). Her success with fresh claims is a result of a theory that reading between the running lines could be more important than the running lines themselves.

"Sometimes an owner will want to claim a horse based on the past performances, but I want to claim a horse based on his potential," she said. "Instead of worrying about what they've done I'm concerned with what they're capable of doing."

Another consideration is the calendar. Cibelli mainly splits her time between the Monmouth and Meadowlands meets in New Jersey, and Tampa Bay Downs, and there are horses who fit one circuit better than the other.

"If we're at the Meadowlands and ready to move to Tampa," she said, "we may look for a horse eligible for a one-other-than [allowance], because the allowance races down there are generally easier than the ones in New Jersey."

When she does put in a claim, look for Cibelli to try something new, as she was probably interested in the horse because she saw something she could improve upon. In fact, if she claims a horse it's probably best if that horse is trying something different in his first start for the barn, because it's likely that Cibelli feels the change will result in improvement.

"In some cases it's just a matter of changing something, anything up - switching from turf to dirt, from long to short - and just look for something they haven't done before," she said.

Cibelli's strong numbers with horses taking blinkers off is no accident, either. There are certain things she will look for in a horse's running style that will signal to her that an equipment change will make a big difference.

"I like speed horses who stop," said Cibelli, a native of the United Kingdom. "Maybe take the blinkers off and try to get them to relax some. We have some excellent exercise riders, and that helps when you're trying to teach a horse something new. Sometimes, they're a little speed-crazy, and nothing works. But if you work with them you can generally get them to rate a bit. They're not going to suddenly come from 20 lengths out of it, but they'll relax a little better.

"Of course," she added with a laugh, "sometimes they're sore, and nothing works."

Cibelli, 45, was a little surprised to hear that she's winless with first-time starters over the past few years, as she believes in running "fit" horses as opposed to racing them into condition, whether it be a first-time-starter or a horse off a long layoff.

"I used to be good with firsters, I don't know what happened," she said jokingly. "Going back to when I worked with Ray Stifano, he used to leave me to my own devices and we used to win with firsters all the time. I think sometimes some of the owners get a little high on their horses, and we put them in tougher spots than we wanted to, but then they run against cheaper and they win. It's not like I believe in giving a horse a race. I'd much rather get that maiden win out of the way."