02/19/2004 1:00AM

Scrutiny yields strategy for maiden claimers


The most successful runners in maiden special weight races are those with positive form and limited racing experience. Horses with close finishes and high speed figures hold an advantage over well-bred first-time starters and maiden claimers stepping up to test straight maidens.

Because of a wider variety of starters in maiden claiming races, ranging from droppers to first-timers, bettors are constantly faced with questions. Should the horse with good form at the same class level be played or is the better wager the dropper that may wake up against easier competition? Should the horse with the highest Beyer Speed Figure be favored, or should the "class" horse be the choice?

There are no simple rules. What wins on one circuit might not fare as well elsewhere. So it makes sense to analyze maiden claiming races on an individual-track basis. This week, I did just that - checking the results from the current Gulfstream Park meeting.

I analyzed the five levels for which Gulfstream writes maiden claiming races, seeking to discover trends and differences between the groups of races. Additionally, I compiled the accompanying chart, which listing the range of winning Beyer Figures, as well as the average.

Here is a summation of the data I found concerning maiden claiming races.

Aside from a hard-to-figure first-time starter, Kissintobeclever ($115.80), the racing was no less formful at the bottom, the maiden $16,000 level. Class-droppers performed well, winning six of the 10 races run for this price. Horses invading from smaller tracks, such as Suffolk, were also able to win - provided they dropped from maiden special weights.

These races were dominated by horses ridden by lesser-known jockeys. Leading, veteran riders at Gulfstream do not regularly ride these low-end races.

The maiden $25,000 class level played similarly, yet class-droppers fared even better. Eight of the 10 races were won by horses exiting maiden special weight company or by those dropping in claiming price. And all but two of the 10 winners entered the race with three or fewer races behind them.

Interestingly, route races for maiden claimers were weaker and slower than sprints, especially at the low- to mid-end of the maiden claiming scale. This is likely because these races are partially filled with plodders who have little speed or talent.

The middle level, maiden $32,000, is unlike the other levels in that some races for this claiming price are written for 4-year-olds. All the other class levels are for 3-year-olds only.

The maiden $32,000 claiming races for 3-year-olds played much differently than those for 4-year-olds. Class-drops mattered in the races for 3-year-olds, but were insignificant with the older horses.

Because the $32,000 level is the only maiden claiming price for which 4-year-olds can compete at Gulfstream, it represents a grossly inflated claiming price.

Two winners of these races, Legendary Lad ($60) and Always Valiant ($93.40), had come off losses for a maiden $15,000 price at Churchill, running fourth and second, respectively. They may have raced for $32,000 at Gulfstream simply because there was no other level for them to run.

In terms of the 3-year-olds, the maiden $32,000 level produced two races run in quick time. The winners of these races were Misty Appeal (Jan. 9, a Beyer Figure of 84) and Carrots Only (Feb. 12, Beyer 78). Horses exiting these races merit watching, particularly if also-rans from these races are dropped to maiden $25,000 or maiden $16,000.

Drops took on less significance at the maiden $45,000 level, with winners being roughly split between droppers and horses remaining at relatively the same claiming price.

These winners had more experience than the winners from the lower maiden-claiming levels. My guess is that this was because their trainers gave them numerous chances in maiden special weight company. Every one of 10 winners raced in a maiden special weight at some earlier point in their careers.

That was also true of most of the winners at the maiden $62,500 level. Although the races were run on both turf and dirt, the surface had little bearing on the types of winners. Horses who had some degree of maiden special weight experience, but who seemed a cut below Gulfstream maiden special weight material, mostly won these races.

This analysis of maiden claiming races led me to the following strategy when playing such races at Gulfstream:

1. In low-end maiden claiming races, prefer lightly raced droppers with speed. Upgrade those that have a license to improve because of equipment changes, distance changes, or first or second Lasix treatment.

2. Do not require class-droppers to have run near par in terms of Beyers. Most inexperienced horses will improve suddenly when dropped to a class level where they fit.

3. Pay careful attention to stretch-out runners. Because maiden claiming sprints are consistently run in faster times than routes, a sprinter's form can be hidden on the stretch out.

4. Do not penalize routers and high-priced maiden claimers with experience - at least not as much as sprinters or low-end runners.

5. And lastly, de-emphasize class in maiden claiming races for older horses. These runners are racing for an inflated maiden $32,000 price, and horses win moving up in claiming price from other circuits.

Gulfstream maiden claiming races

LevelPurseAgeC&G Beyers (avg.)F&M Beyers (avg.)
Mdn 16K11K3YO66-53 (62)60-46 (53)
Mdn 25K13K3YO68-59 (63)65-46 (57)
Mdn 32K14K3YO84-65 (76)71-53 (61)
  14K4YO88-67 (74)69-56 (63)
Mdn 45K17K3YO76-61 (68)69-54 (62)
Mdn 62.5K24K3YO82-70 (76)71-64 (67)