06/25/2004 12:00AM

Rich angle on maiden claimers

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - What should bettors do when they spot a horse that cost $100,000 or more at auction running for a small fraction of that price in a maiden claiming race in its first or second start? Judging from a small sample of results on the Kentucky and Ohio circuits, the answer is that they should head to the nearest betting window.

A provocative example surfaced last winter at Turfway. Logger, a $320,000 auction purchase at Keeneland in September 2000, debuted for Akiko Gothard in a $7,500 maiden claiming race on Dec. 12. His mere presence in that race was remarkable, and the story became even more interesting when he romped by seven lengths, and paid a generous $15.20.

I was reminded of Logger when I handicapped Churchill's 10th race on June 18. Tib Fib, a $200,000 purchase in August 2002, was making his first start for David Carroll in a $20,000 maiden claiming field. Carroll's statistics with first-time starters were excellent, with 28 percent wins from a sample of 29 first-time starters, and a $4.15 ROI. Tib Fib looked even better after considering his work tab, which included a half-mile breeze in 48.60 seconds, and a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.40. He helped to improve Carroll's stats when he scored by three lengths, and returned $7.60. Tib Fib was claimed from that race by Michael Tomlinson.

Jamaica Joe was purchased at auction for $135,000 by Dogwood Stable, and debuted at Belmont in a maiden special in October 2003. He finished far back in that race, then surprised most observers when he turned up in a $5,000 maiden claiming race at River Downs on June 3. He won that race by 6 3/4 lengths, and paid $5.20. Nobody took a chance on him in the claiming box. Jamaica Joe then tackled winners in a $10,000 N2L at Churchill. He won by 4 3/4 lengths, without being asked for his best, and paid $24.40. Jamaica Joe was claimed from the race by Kevin Aubrey.

As with any angle, they can't all be winners. David Carroll debuted Slate Run, a $230,000 purchase, in a $15,000 maiden claiming race at Churchill on June 25, and he finished off the board.

It remains to be seen how these horses will pan out as claims. Although most of them have been worth more than their claiming price, it seems very unlikely that they will end up being worth anything close to their auction price, since the trainers who chose to enter them so cheaply obviously had what they believed to be a good reason for doing so.

Logger is the only member of this group who has run back. He lost his second and third starts, then beat $15,000 N2L's on Feb. 29 fourth time out, and was claimed. Unfortunately, he has earned only a marginal $1,047 in purse money from five subsequent races following the claim.

Regardless of how they turn out as claims, horses who run in maiden claiming races for the first time, in their first or second career start, for 10 percent or less of their auction price, are frequently good bets. As was seen in the Jamaica Joe example, they are also worth betting again against winners if they win their maiden claiming start.