Updated on 09/15/2011 2:38PM

A reliable, lucrative angle play


JAMAICA, N.Y. - The drop from maiden special weight to maiden claimer is understood by most players to be very significant. Even so, 7-1 winners like Saskya, who fit that profile in Aqueduct's opener on Wednesday, fall through the cracks every so often.

Not as highly publicized but equally dangerous are first-time droppers from the allowance ranks into claiming races restricted to 3-year-olds. The theory is the same as with the maidens: The droppers have been in fields that perhaps contained future stakes winners, and now find themselves in much easier spots. When these horses have shown the wherewithal to contest the pace against their non-claiming competition, they become one of the game's most reliable and lucrative plays at the reduced level.

Consider this roster of 3-year-olds who recently scored off this angle at the Big A:

Date Horse Trainer Mutuel
Nov. 6 Paducah N. Zito $29.80
Nov. 16 Tampa N. Zito 8.70
Nov. 23 Little Bold Sweep J. Jerkens 40.00
Dec. 1 Bluesbreaker P. Reynolds 8.90
Dec. 12 Spavinaw T. Bush 43.20

The mutuels are sometimes outlandish, the main reason being that the droppers have finished well back in their recent starts and thus have earned unspectacular Beyer Speed Figures.

The poor finish matters not. In fact, it is desirable inasmuch as it serves to throw sleepy bettors off the scent.

A closer look at the five 3-year-olds from the chart:

PADUCAH (wired $40K claimers): A gate-to-wire winner in special-weight company second time out at Gulfstream in February. He had finished out of the money in five subsequent entry-level allowance starts, three times beaten double-digit lengths. Importantly, he had the early lead in four of them.

TAMPA (off-the-pace winner for $60K): Following a maiden special weight win at Keeneland in April, he won an entry-level allowance at Belmont in June. Three starts since then produced off-the-board finishes, beaten a combined 44 lengths.

LITTLE BOLD SWEEP (wired $20K claimers): He was a special-weight winner as a second-time starting 2-year-old at Belmont last year. He had finished last in three tries against preliminary allowance rivals, but had shown speed in two of those races.

BLUESBREAKER (wired $50K claimers): This two-time New York-bred allowance winner set the pace in the Albany and Hudson handicaps, the latter against the likes of Impeachthepro and Say Florida Sandy.

SPAVINAW (wired $45K claimers): Like Bluesbreaker, she was a multiple winner in New York-bred company, including the J.A. Gimma as a juvenile in 2000. She set the pace in an open second-level allowance in her start before the win.

Notes on the above: In addition to Paducah and Tampa, Nick Zito nearly added a third winner with this angle on Nov. 3, when Kowloon Side ran second at 18-1 and keyed a $93 exacta underneath an 8-5 winner. Kowloon Side had won a statebred maiden race on Jan. 7, and had been no closer to the winner than 9 3/4 lengths in five allowance tries.

Saskya is trained by Tom Bush, who also sent out Spavinaw (blinkers off) to light up the board. The low-profile Bush is 3-1-0 from his first four inner-dirt starters.

Vote is in

My Eclipse Awards ballot was sent in this week, as follows:

Steeplechase - Pompeyo. Tough call.

Two-year-old colt - Johannesburg. Bet against in Kentucky Derby with both hands.

Two-year-old filly - Tempera. Assisted by bias-aided, six-wide trip at Belmont in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Three-year-old colt - Point Given. Walkover.

Three-year-old filly - Flute. The Kentucky Oaks and Alabama are the two biggest races in the division. She won them both by open lengths.

Older male - Tiznow. Still can't believe I went off him after the Goodwood.

Older female - Gourmet Girl. Strongly tempted to leave this category blank.

Sprinter - Squirtle Squirt. Overcame the Bobby Frankel Breeders' Cup hex.

Male turf - Fantastic Light. Even though he cost me a win bet on Milan at 7-1.

Female turf - Banks Hill. Walkover.

Horse of the Year - Point Given.

Breeder - Harry T. Mangurian/Mockingbird Farm.

Owner - Juddmonte Farm. Aptitude, Flute, Banks Hill, et al.

Trainer - Bobby Frankel.

Jockey - Jerry Bailey.

Apprentice - Jeremy Rose.

This year's results underscore the need for an additional category, that of female sprinter. It's extremely unfortunate and unfair that the durable Xtra Heat is probably going to come away empty-handed when she figures as a finalist in both the 3-year-old filly and sprint divisions, but there's no precedent for giving the 3-year-old filly award to a sprinter, and no denying Squirtle Squirt's credentials in the sprint category.

Path-on-the-turn logic

Earlier this month, a reader mailed in this question:

"At the beginning of the turn, four horses are abreast, nose to nose. Speed for all remains constant. At the end of the turn, how much distance separates each horse. In other words, how much farther must a horse run on the turn, depending on the path that he follows?"

As I've always understood it the general rule of thumb is to add one length for each path removed from the rail, so the four-path runner theoretically would be giving the rail horse a four-length advantage.

Caution is advised with this logic, however. Many horses dislike running inside or between other horses, so it's fair to say the four-wide horse, all else being equal, is having the least stressful trip.

Moreover, the nuts-and-bolts of how much ground is lost on the turn should also be viewed in the context of any prevailing track bias. At Belmont for much of the spring-summer and fall meets this year, as seems annually the case, the outside paths were strongly preferred on the majority of racing days. To give the four-wide horse more credit than the rail horse under those circumstances would fly in the face of reality.