12/04/2013 4:48PM

Bob Pandolfo: Class is king at The Meadowlands

Derick Giwner
Driver Corey Callahan has shown the ability to "wake up" horses who have shown dull form.

A few months ago I presented a group of factors that a computer study listed as the best indicators of win predictability. The top three were Final Time, Class Drops and Driver changes.

With the New Meadowlands inaugural winter meet in the early stages, this is a good time to talk about class handicapping. If you handicapped any of the three cards that have been raced so far this meet, you've seen that horses have shipped in from many different tracks. Handicapping at the beginning of a meet requires a lot of class handicapping because you have to try to classify horses from different tracks and class levels. Complicating the matter is the fact that some of the horses are coming off layoffs.

Class is an important factor in general, but I believe that it's even more important at a two turn track like the Meadowlands than it is on the more speed favoring smaller ovals. The Meadowlands, with its long stretch and swirling winds, is tough on horses that don't have at least a touch of inherent class. Being able to make a good evaluation of a horse's recent class is extremely important.

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Last year the Meadowlands brought the letter condition system back in an attempt to make the races more competitive. The problem without the letter system was the sharp drops in class. For instance, horses that hadn't been winning would drop from a NW18000 to a NW6000 and that often resulted in an easy win at low odds. In my opinion, these types of sharp drops in class are something that racing secretaries should try to avoid. Using the letter classification system alleviates this problem because horses can only drop (for the most part) one class at a time. Another good thing about the system is that a horse can win and stay in the same condition, sometimes for several races. With the letter class system, the racing secretary has the leverage of doing what is best to create the finest races for wagering.

Let's look over a race from last week. On Friday, November 29, in the 3rd race, I felt that I made a tactical error on my selections. The race was a C-2, which is the bottom condition. This race was for mares who were 4 years old and up. If you looked at the recent classes and purse levels, two of the mares were obviously coming out of the best races. One was Persuasive Hanover and the other was Nevermind Franco N.

Persuasive Hanover, who was 20-1 on the morning line, had raced against much tougher in her two prior starts but had shown nothing. She had not raced since August and her overall class was questionable. Plus, she did not have one of the top Meadowlands catch drivers. Most handicappers threw her out and she went off at 84-1.

Nevermind Franco N was 8-1 on the morning line. The total purses of her last two starts, at Pocono and Yonkers, were $30,000, significantly higher than all of the other horses except Persuasive Hanover. But unlike Persuasive Hanover, Nevermind Franco N had some form. She had gone first over against tougher at Yonkers two back then drew a tough outside post against tougher at Pocono. In her prior starts at Harrington, she had finished well against the speed bias on several occasions. She was getting a driver change to Corey Callahan, who woke up a lot of horses at the Meadowlands last winter. Nevermind Franco N was definitely dropping in class in this C-2. Callahan left with her, got the pocket and she won and paid $33.20. I thought that the 8-1 morning line was representative of her actual chances so she was a nice overlay. Some of the C-2 races can be intriguing puzzles and in this particular instance, I completely botched the race. I didn't have the winner listed. But when you make mistakes like this early in the meet, you have to learn from them. I'll be more attentive in similar situations in days ahead.

Now I'll admit that the C-2 race in question was a bit of a puzzle. But that's exactly why it was such an attractive betting race. Some of these lower level races are among the best betting races at the Meadowlands. In this race, there were horses shipping in from six different tracks. I think that handicappers have to be careful not to dismiss a race that may look perplexing at first. Sometimes with a little digging you can find juicy overlays. And using recent class to evaluate horses will lead to many winners at the Meadowlands.

When evaluating class, you have to look at recent class and overall class. Recent class is simple, what type of horses has the horse been facing? The purses, conditions and track itself are there in the program. But overall class can be a little tricky. At the Meadowlands, there are horses that have won there before. This is a good sign. If a horse has won several races at the Meadowlands, it shows that it can handle the surface and the two turn layout, but it also shows that the horse has the class to win at the Meadowlands. So what the horse has done in the past, even going back to last year, is as important was what it's done lately. So you want to look at a horse's overall record at the track, plus where it took its lifetime marks. Some horses do their best racing on half-mile or five-eighth tracks and will struggle at the Meadowlands.

The Meadowlands is a track that can be tough on cheap speed and benefits horses that have the ability to sustain a rally. In other words, horses than can finish. It's a track that favors horses that can grind on the rim, take some air and still have something left in the final sixteenth. Many horses that don't have this type of stamina do just fine on half-mile tracks where they can use their tactical speed to open up a safe lead. But the Big M is a track where class shows. Once you get into the lower levels, like this C-2 race I mentioned, you may not find a horse that has a lot of class. But, that's okay. All you need is a horse that has a class edge. And sometimes that edge is narrow. Nevermind Franco N certainly didn't lay over the field on class. But she had been racing competitively against tougher horses and on recent class and form, she actually had an edge, plus she was getting a key driver change.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.