Avoid Horses that Wander in the Stretch

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By Dean Arnold

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Therefore, horses that cannot maintain a straight path in the stretch are by default making the race harder for themselves since they are wasting energy. And for a horse that kept its path straight in previous efforts, an episode of drifting or lugging in can even forecast a decline in form. It makes no difference if a horse drifts left towards the inner rail or right toward the grandstand side of the racing surface. Whether observed or noted from past performance comments, this is valuable information. Take note!

The causes behind such a trip vary, such as for the following reasons:
– Racing greenly due to inexperience, distractions or fear;
– Veering when hit with the whip;
– Exhaustion which made them wobbly;
– Infirmities cause favoring of left or right side;
– Jockey not correcting path and straightening horse out.

Even if the horse won last time out, don’t expect improvement or even a repeat today. Winning via the overland route implies an overly taxing effort and thus improvement or even a repeat performance is quite unlikely. As for such horses dropping in claiming price, the connections are all but advertising that the horse has problems – an obvious bet against.

If the horse is young and was erratic due to inexperience, it should improve its behavior but there is no guarantee it will. Adding blinkers following a ‘green’ effort will prompt many players to bet on the anticipated improvement. But it’s an overplayed angle that depresses the odds to unappetizing levels. As discussed in a previous Spur, proven trouble-prone horses are more likely to continue their trouble-prone ways than to improve. The same notion holds true for horses that cannot maintain their straight path in the stretch.

Unless you personally saw the race replay, don’t assume the erratic path was a deliberate maneuver by a skilled jockey. Jockeys occasionally position their mount to take away a path from a rallying closer, but effective use of this tactic is rare. If you see a jockey leaning heavily to one side or wrestling with the horse, be sure to avoid the horse next time out. The horse may be tired or it may be going off form, but either way, such horses are not a good bet.  

Inevitably, with signs of fatigue, layoffs will often follow. It will not be uncommon to find a horse returning from a layoff following a race with comments of drifting, lugging in, and the like. This is a clear indication that the connections recognized the horse needed some rest and recuperation. Unless the trainer specializes in returning horses from lengthy periods of inactivity, the horse remains a solid play-against.

Requirements to Avoid Horses that Wander in the Stretch:

– Note horses that fail to maintain a straight path through the stretch either through observation or past performance notation.

– These horses are not automatic bet-againsts, but if on all other merits they rate as the top choice, it is best to pass the race altogether.

– Although some consideration can be given for young and inexperienced runners, trip handicappers often overplay these contestants, making them unattractive betting prospects.

– Horses returning from a layoff of more than 30 days should only be considered when the trainer is a layoff specialist.

Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through Amazon.

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