Are Uncoupled Entries an Indicator of Vulnerable Favorite?

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By Dean Arnold

Why would a trainer run other horses in the barn against their own solid contender? It seems like all the top trainers (Baffert, Pletcher, Asmussen) do it without worrying about competing against themselves and the trend is at all levels of competition, from maiden and claiming races to stakes events.

But don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that means the trainer thinks his ‘A’ horse won’t win.

Here’s some questions to ask yourself:

Is the entry just an insurance policy in case the ‘A’ horse fails? That often doesn’t make sense because the ‘B’ or ‘C’ horse entered by the same stable would stand a better chance if pointed to a different race where it would be a top contender. In maiden races where horses make their racing debuts, there are often multiple runners from the same barns. These uncoupled entries are the result of limited opportunities for a trainer of 20 - 50 two-year-olds. At any given track, there may be only one filly and one colt maiden special weight race a week, so a trainer’s best fit for the condition may only come around once every two to three weeks. So when one comes up, they have no choice but to run two or three runners, even if they are costing a stablemate a maiden victory.

Why would a solid contender be entered against competition from its own stable? Despite many bettors’ negative impressions, the entry of another runner from the barn is not a red flag in many cases. A solid contender may face a field that includes other contenders or even longshots from its own barn. Other times, the race that sets up perfectly for a top contender might also have the makings of a good prep for a stablemate looking for a good race to set it up for something better down the road. In these circumstances, the addition of uncoupled entries does not sound a warning that the top entrant from a given barn might be vulnerable.

Sometimes uncoupled entries are intended to fill a race with few entrants. This may occur when few runners fit a particular allowance condition, a rarely used (and peculiar) distance or in stakes races, especially for two-year-olds early in the season.

Another reason to enter against one’s own horse is that it gives multiple runners in the same barn the chance to pick up a graded stakes placing. Small fields lead to a good chance for a runner to hit the board even if overmatched for the win. Fillies in particular increase in value with a graded stakes placing, especially a Grade I. Precocious two-year-olds can boost their value and early credentials by running in a stakes races before lots of runners are even ready to compete.

Requirements to Play Uncoupled Entries:

– Uncoupled entries occur when a trainer enters more than one horse in the same race.

– If one entry is the favorite, bettors often wrongly view this trainer move as a negative sign.

– Evaluate the race with the scenarios discussed in this Spur to consider many positive situations when a trainer would enter against one’s own horse. Just because the trainer is competing against his/her own favorite doesn’t mean that the trainer thinks the favorite is vulnerable or ill-spotted.

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

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