Avoid Horses Moving to Weak Connections

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By Dean Arnold

There are times when a horse changes barns that horseplayers should be very cautious. There are other times when the change could be a positive one. There are also times where it is nothing more than a logistics move that probably doesn’t matter at all. Depending on whether the horse has changed owners, trainers or both, the horse’s subsequent starts can often be predicted -- for better or worse.

In the claiming ranks, a handful of trainers know how to consistently win, and the others win only sporadically. Horses that win for a high percentage trainer will usually not perform as well for the less talented connections. A low percentage trainer that acquires a horse from a top outfit is far more likely to end up dropping the horse in claiming price in search of a win, than raising the horse’s value due to success above and beyond what the top barn was originally producing.

It is rare to see a horse win a claiming race for a top outfit, get claimed by a low percentage stable and win again. The game would be too easy if all losing barns needed to do was claim someone else’s winner and simply re-enter them. Keeping a horse in winning form is difficult.  High percentage trainers do it better than low percentage trainers. Additionally, the recent claim is usually required to move up in price, making it even harder to win. Even worse, a last-out winner is usually over-bet by the public. As a rule, players who pass on all of these situations only miss underlaid winners.

When top notch stables drop an expensive horse to the claiming ranks and no-name connections bite, don’t expect the Midas touch. If Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, Bill Mott or Todd Pletcher can’t win with the horse, realize it has been trained by the best. Their evaluation of the horse’s future ability, regardless of how it fares in its claiming debut, is usually reliable. If the horse can’t perform for top trainers, losing connections are unlikely to be any more successful. For every great claim, there are a dozen that only head further down the claiming ladder as their career regress.

But what if a horse switches from one top barn to another? Zayat Stables frequently switches its horses between Rudy Rodriquez and Bill Mott on the east coast, Mike Maker in Kentucky and Bob Baffert on the west coast. Syndicates such as West Point Thoroughbreds will move horses from one trainer to another to get the horse racing on a different circuit. These kind of moves are fairly common. When the owner doesn’t sell the horses but simply moves them amongst qualified trainers, it really shouldn’t hurt the horses’ performance. If anything, the change can assumed to be for a major objective or to get the horse in races best suited for it. 

Another move seen with large outfits is moving horses between major and minor league branches of the same stable. Large outfits with dozens of horses often have runners at multiple levels of the racing ladder. When a horse is finding itself outrun at a marquee track and drops to a smaller venue, it often finds itself well spotted against the easier competition. Godolphin uses this approach in North America with Kiaran McLaughlin (prior to his recent retirement) running the ‘major league’ east coast operation, and Dan Peitz running the minor league stable at Oaklawn Park in the winter and the Kentucky circuit in the summer. If the horse doesn’t change to a new owner, it is often an honest concession that the horse may be fit and in form, yet still needs to run in easier spots in order to find the winner’s circle.

On the other hand, when a horse begins at the minor leagues and shows fast-developing talent, it may get called up to the major leagues. The age of the horse is usually a factor. A young horse can quickly develop and soar to new levels of success, while the more experience a horse has, the more proven a commodity it is. Dramatic improvement in the late stages of any horse’s career is highly unlikely.

Requirements to Avoid Horses Moving to Weak Connections:

– Avoid betting any horse making its first start after moving to a trainer with a noticeably lower win percentage than its previous barn.

– Avoid betting when well known stables lose a horse in a claiming race to a low percentage outfit. Less successful trainers are unlikely to have better success with a horse than the top outfit letting it go.

– Horses moving between decent trainers working for the same owner (but at different tracks) often do so because it gets them pointed towards more appropriate races. Such horses usually maintain form and often improve when properly spotted.

– With young, developing horses, improvement is more likely than with older, more seasoned runners.

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

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