06/15/2001 12:00AM

Strong PPs + year layoff + class drop = loser's profile


Toga Mania is a 5-year-old mare who had a very productive year during her brief 3-year-old campaign. She won a $50,000 maiden claiming race by 12 lengths in her debut in March 1999. She finished in the money in three straight allowance N1X races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Her lone off-the-board finish came when she raced on the turf for the first time, but she made amends when she returned to the main track and earned a career-best 91 Beyer while winning an allowance N1X at Del Mar on Aug. 1, 1999. Her earnings for those six starts were $72,520.

Toga Mania didn't race again for 22 months. She made her comeback in a $10,000 claiming race at Hollywood Park on May 30, 2001. Based on her previous form, she would have crushed that field. But based on her previous form, she deserved to be running in an allowance N2X, not a $10,000 claiming race. Many bettors anticipated that she would dominate this soft field, and hammered her down to 7-10. But Toga Mania wasn't able to match her previous form, and finished last of seven, beaten by 9 1/4 lengths.

Nearly three years ago, I did some research to see exactly how horses who had been laid off for a year or longer fared. I mentioned this study to a friend a couple of months ago, and he was interested enough to ask me to dig up the final totals. It took a while, but I located the information.

The results had been provocative. I found 103 runners who fit into that category. Remarkably, only seven won. The return on every $2 wagered was only 77 cents, less than half of the $1.68 that would have been expected if they had broken even, after subtracting the 16 percent takeout.

Broken down into odds ranges, the 55 runners who had been on the shelf for 12 months or longer who closed at 10-1 or higher returned only 59 cents for every $2 bet. The 48 who attracted enough betting support to close at single-digit odds returned 97 cents for each $2 wagered.

Even more interesting was the fact that when they lost, they often finished off the board. A surprisingly high 37 percent of them were among the last three finishers. That information could be quite valuable for bettors who concentrate on the exotics, since they can multiply their profits by leaving these layoff horses out of all three slots in the trifecta, and/or all four positions in the superfecta.

Since the completion of that research, I have actively sought out opportunities to bet against horses returning from lengthy layoffs. This is what I have observed: The runners who close at 10-1 or higher have continued to be terrible bets. Every once in a blue moon, one will win and pay $25 or $30, but most of the horses in this odds range aren't competitive, so few finish in the money, making place, show, and the minor gimmick slots even worse than the win results. In the 9-1 and under odds range, the 97 cent ROI that my study uncovered is probably a little low. My best estimate is that they probably return something closer to $1.30 or so to win, but they are still poor bets at that level. Horses returning from layoffs of two years, or longer are also worse than the average layoff horse in this study. The other big negative is a dramatic class drop from stakes or allowance races into a claiming race in the comeback start. The class drop will attract betting support, but it turns out to be a negative sign more often than not.