A Guide to Playing Started Allowance Races

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By Dean Arnold

Starter allowance races are allowance (or restricted handicap) races for horses that have raced for a claiming price within a certain amount of time. Some tracks offer these races as a series, while other tracks rarely offer them at all.

Tracks that routinely offer starter races on a daily basis include Oaklawn Park, Turfway Park, Aqueduct and Fairgrounds. Annually, the ‘Claiming Crown’ races in early December at Gulfstream Park are actually all starter allowance races as well, which is a way to give claiming horses from around the country some big purses to run for.

Some tracks offer the occasional six-furlong or one-mile starter race at the $5,000, $8,000, or $10,000 claiming level. Other tracks offer a series of marathon events that usually increase in distance during the duration of each meet. Certain horses make a career of these events, since these are not distances typically run by horses, especially cheaper ones. And a horse that can compete in these races need only run in the occasional claiming event to remain eligible.

To compete in a route marathon starter series, trainers must find a horse that can run all day. The horse either needs to have started for a low claiming price, or will have to be run in a low level claiming race without getting claimed. It then gets entered in a starter race, and if it wins, it will get additional weight for the next race in the series. Winning the first two events in a series is likely to mean a heavy weight assignment (at an even longer distance) in the next race, perhaps as much as 126 to 130 lbs. So trainers either find the rare animal that can take the distances and the pounds, or else they plan on one race in the series to take their best shot and try to get the horse entered with as little weight as possible (by having a string of lackluster efforts leading up to the race).

Horses that win these races will win again and again. Conversely, horses that do not frequent these races rarely drop in and win. And traditional handicapping fundamentals rarely apply. Horses that fail to contend in a $5,000 claimer miraculously pull themselves together to win a series of $5,000 starter handicaps. Having an otherwise losing rider doesn’t matter. Nor does the increasing weights and/or increasing distances.

Best of all, the horse with multiple starter allowance wins will often go off at odds that are generous. Each event includes horses entering from higher priced claimers or off a commanding non-starter win. The betting public will decide that the starter allowance hero has finally met a field that will outclass him. But yet, he’ll prevail again – bet on it.

However, Alw50000s is a special starter designation offered in the Southern California racing condition book, and are almost always worth looking at for betting opportunities. The overall condition is starter allowance races for horses who won a maiden claiming race for $50K or less and have never won any other race in their career. These races are intended for local cheap horses that beat a maiden claiming field and are unlikely to ever win another race. They often can’t run fast enough to win an ALWNX1 or even a bottom level $10,000 claiming race. 

This special condition is typically dominated by horses that could perhaps win a Md Sp Wt, but instead the trainers gamble and debut the horse in a Md 32000 and win easily for a $20,000 purse (without being claimed). The horse then enters the Alw50000s race in their second career race (where they are protected from being claimed) and are able to pick up another $18,000 against the weakest competition on the grounds (after this, they are still eligible for ALWNX1 in their third career start). A strong debut winner usually towers over these fields of chronic losers that somehow managed to win a maiden claiming race in their lackluster history. These horses stand out so much it is silly.

Requirements to Play Starter Allowance Races:

  • Look for niche horses that qualify for starter conditions and note ones that tend to run well in ‘starters’ but run mediocre or worse when not racing in starter events.
  • Favor horses that have won previous starter events or have run well in previous starter events at tracks where there is a meet-long series.
  • Maiden-claiming starter races in Southern California are a different category and should be reviewed to find horses that won the first (and only) time they entered a maiden claiming event. These horses get a second chance to race against maiden claiming stock, and are often standouts over weak fields.

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

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