Improving Three-Year-Olds

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By Dean Arnold

The most talented runners of the foal crop every year are pointed towards the Kentucky Derby (G1) or Kentucky Oaks (G1). As horses progress along the trail to Louisville, they must be considered at each stop on not only their prospects in that given race, but also the fact that the horses may be just prepping for a big performance the first weekend in May (and of course in 2020, the first weekend in September).

With the dramatic changes in the racing calendar this year due to Covid-19, owners and trainers now have even more ‘prep’ time to get their horses ready for the big dance(s) at Churchill Downs. Accordingly, pay attention to how three-year-olds are managed by their connections during the next 100 days. Specifically, any trainer entering a three-year-old horse in an added money event is announcing that they believe there is talent in their animal, so it’s important for the handicapper to pay attention as to how the horse will progress in one of the following ways: 

- Towards a long-term goal of winning the classic Grade I’s down the road, gaining stamina and experience without peaking in lesser events.

- Striking while the iron is hot, trying to win the added money these stakes offer while the divisional leaders may not be cranked up 100%.

- Testing the stakes waters, but then dropping back to dominate allowance fields, often after getting beaten badly in stakes. The difference between stakes runners and the maiden winners that fill the nw1x allowance fields is underestimated every time -- Attack it!

- Testing the stakes waters, running a clunker, then adding Lasix/new equipment and rebounding. The retry in stakes after a solid beating is a good sign when the trainer is reputable, and when the horse wasn’t a hopeless longshot in the stakes race. 

The challenge for players is to distinguish legitimate stakes animals from ambitious pretenders, then take the opportunity to bet the stakes horse in the stakes, and tab the pretenders for a major wager when they drop back to allowance fields.   

Often future stakes stars will win their maiden races and allowance races impressively, yet get beat in their initial stakes foray. Impressive beginners often look fabulous beating non-winners, but face a much sterner challenge against quality stakes animals, and they rarely step right up and win in their first try. Nevertheless, if they are still fundamentally sound, and moving forward in their development, their second and third stakes tries are often much improved, and at a price.  

Requirements to Play Improving Three-Year-Olds:

- Take advantage of this key time of year in the three-year-old season by following the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail of preps with an eye for which horses belong. - When horses try stakes competition and get beat, bet the return when it’s an allowance race, especially against a field of maiden winners.

- When horses try stakes and get beat, bet the return when it’s a stakes race again if the trainer is reputable and if the horse wasn’t a hopeless longshot in stakes, especially if adding new equipment or medication. Future stakes stars are often beat in their first try against quality stakes animals.

- Remember to watch for horses that are either quick, precocious (or both) that romp in early season added money events, waiting for them to become over-bet favorites down the road.

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

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