Updated on 09/16/2011 8:38AM

Let public know if a claim is made


I've been asked some interesting questions following the seminars I give at Keeneland during the Fall and Spring meetings. One devoted racing fan wanted to know why no announcement is made before the start of a claiming race to let handicappers know which of the horses in the race had been claimed.

Up until that moment I hadn't thought much about it, but he made an interesting argument. When an extra $50,000 suddenly shows up in the win pool in one flash of the updated odds, many handicappers consider that to be crucial information. Isn't there a chance that a $50,000 cash investment at the claiming box might also be significant? Even at lower claiming prices, the fact that one or more horsemen think enough of a horse to want to purchase him might prove to be important.

There is no reason why making this information available couldn't be done. At most tracks, the deadline for a claim form to be filled out and dropped into the claiming box is about 15 minutes before post time. It would take only a couple of minutes to identify the horses who were about to change hands following the race. Surely, that information could be disseminated to the public quickly enough to allow approximately

10 minutes or so for bettors to factor it into their handicapping.

I promised the gentleman at the seminar that I would research the subject to try to discover how horses who are claimed out of a race performed in that race. It took a while to get around to it, but the work was definitely worth doing. I gathered a sample of 550 horses who had been claimed out of races from three recent editions and one 2001 edition of the DRF Simulcast Weekly, then sorted them into groups according to their odds. As it turned out, there were some telling trends that handicappers could benefit from.

When examining large groups of horses in different odds categories, the broad trend usually shows that the lower the odds, the lower the loss per $2 bet. With no handicapping involved, the heaviest favorites lose much less money than the longshots.

That was not even close to being the case here. Eighteen of the 45 claimed horses bet down below even-money won (40 percent), but their low $3.28 average win payoff yielded a terrible $1.31 return on investment on every $2 bet.

The group ranging from even-money to 19-10 won 43 of 134 races (32 percent) for $207.70 in payoffs, and a sub-par $1.55 ROI.

Claimed horses at odds from 2-1 through 9-2 won 53 of 239 races (22 percent) for $414 in payoffs, and a $1.73 ROI that beat the takeout.

The rising ROI trend continued with horses at 5-1 through 9-1 winning 11 of 94 attempts, slightly less than a 12 percent hit rate, with $168.60 in payoffs, and a $1.80 ROI.

Admittedly, the sample size thins out considerably from this point on. Three of the 27 horses at 10-1 through 19-1 won, for an 11 percent success rate that is higher than it would probably be if the sample had been larger. The $77.80 in payoffs generated a huge $2.88 ROI. By combining it with the 11 horses who were 20-1 and higher who did not win a race, the $77.80 in payoffs from those 38 horses works out to a generous, but more reasonable $2.05 ROI.

Why are these results the opposite of what is normally found when examining these odds groups? I believe it can be explained this way:

Claiming races are an example of free-market capitalism. As such, market forces are supposed to work to make them competitive contests. If your horse can win, or be a serious contender for $35,000, why run him for only $10,000 and have him claimed away from you for a much lower price than you deserve to receive? If your horse can win, or be competitive for $10,000, he probably will not earn a dime in purse money while overmatched against $35,000 stock. When a claiming horse appears to be such a standout that he is hammered down below even-money, and also proves to be equally irresistible to horsemen as well, he probably falls into the "too good to be true" category. Chances are that his connections would like to part company with him by running him for a "bargain" claiming price because he has already gone off form, or because his physical condition suggests that a form reversal is a distinct possibility in the near future. That is probably why these horses underperform so badly in relation to their odds in the race they are claimed from.

On the other hand, when bettors are only mildly interested in a horse, and send him to the post at mid-level odds or higher, those horses win often enough to negate most, or all of the takeout. They may even show profits for bettors. In those cases, trainers and/or owners might have spotted subtle merits in that horse which have been overlooked by the betting public.

As it turns out, although he did not guess how the details would unfold, the Keeneland seminar attendee was right. It would be extremely helpful for the purpose of trying to beat favorites, and for the purpose of trying to spot live longshots if racing fans knew which horses had attracted claim slips before a race was run. The question is whether or not any race track will make the effort to make this valuable information available to their customers.