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Maiden Special Weights offers a gold mine of value

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When Aqueduct moves to the inner track every December, the variety of races fans get to chose from dwindles down dramatically to 6 furlong sprints, and two turn races at a mile and 70 yards. As a horse racing fan this gets boring, as a handicapper it becomes predictable. Especially if there is a speed bias, low payouts turn bettors into vultures pickings off a caracas. Fortunately Gulfstream park is around which feature horses from all over the country offering deep fields with larger payouts. One race in particular that has seen its share of generous ROI is the two year old (soon to be three year old) maiden special weight.

Maiden special weights run this time of year feature late blooming two year olds who are lightly raced or have not yet raced at all. There is no question that the majority of horses entered in these MSW's have tremendous potential, but the key factor in finding value is that their youth and inexperience keeps their true value unknown. Even a good trainer has to tinker with a horse a bit to find out what best suits them. This process may take a couple of races to pinpoint their specialty; if she is a turf horse, if he wants to run in sprints or even what workout pattern is best suited for that horse. Until then it's trial and error until they find their true level. This is when you the bettor can catch a really nice price.

Here are some numbers highlighting the generous payouts in MSW's from this years winter meet at Gulfstream Park.

As of writing this, there have been 16 two year old MSW's since the meet began on November 30th. In those races, favorites have won .25%, roughly the par for favorites to win. However, the average return on a $2 win bet for MSW's is $26.75. Compare that with 2 year old maiden claiming races; from the same sample, Gulfstream Park. In 25 maiden claiming races there has been a return of $16.20. Now if you take out the highest win payout of $117.40 ($81 more than the next highest of 36.40 in that sample), of those claiming races you get $11.80 per $2 win bet. Do the same thing with the MSW's, take of the highest return of $73.40 and your return is still a healthy $23.64 per $2 win bet.

Why take out the highest number you ask? Simply because we are trying to shave off the possibility of randomness skewing the results. When looking for value, there has to be a mark of consistency, therefore there has to be an angle that can justify looking for that value. There is a difference between getting consistent square prices and simply betting long shots. When talking about prices anywhere from 35-1 and up, too often those big prices are outliers. Those outliers are products of unknown events occurring in a race that does not show up in the past performances. Some examples of this would be: an early (unexpected) speed duel resulting in a pace meltdown, too slow a pace early on (usually in turf races), the favorite gets trapped on the rail or behind a wall of horses, the saddle slips, favorite breaks bad out of the gate, or simply they don't feel like running that day (it happens).

What makes a playing MSW's such a good bet is that a horse can enter the starting gate at odds of 20-1 and be every bit a logical winner on paper as the even money favorite. This is very different from handicapping races with older horses with established form. For example in an allowance race for older horses, a simple look at speed figures, wins and losses, or if the horse is dropping into favorable conditions can give you a punchers chance.

In a race filled with inexperienced young horses, interpreting their value in past performances becomes a more nuanced exercise, with a wider variety of angles to analyze.

Some of these angles are: workout patterns, i.e. a sharp bullet workout, followed by a gate workout, then right before the race a nice maintenance work. This pattern shows a horse who is ready to run a big race. This type of knowledge however is best used with when knowing the trainer and the patterns that trainer exhibits in getting their horses ready. After years of experience the most successful trainers develop their own style, they know what their looking for and what they want to do with a horse when ready. This is why trainer stats are so important and need to be interpreted correctly. Some trainers consistently fire off high percentages winners in MSW's and with first time starters. On the other hand, some trainers are known to work their horses slowly into form using races to gain experience before stepping them up against winners.

Another big angle is the pedigree, or the breeding of a horse. The breeding game is an art and a science unto itself. Just go to a yearling sale to see how much money is spent on yearlings and it quickly becomes clear that the breeding industry runs deep with highly trained geneticist, actuaries, and horsemen. But for your benefit there are many excellent sources of information like the Bloodhorse Stallion Registries, where you can tract the sire and dam lines and their past performances, as well as their breeding statistics.

This Wednesday is the first day of 2014, when all two year olds turn three. The 7th race at Gulfstream Park is a MSW run at 1 1/16th on the turf. This race is a nine horse field featuring some of the previously angles mentioned. The morning line has three entries at odds of 4-1 and under, leaving six possible options to look for value.

Here are two that I think may do something.

Ringold (3), 15-1, this colt has some turf pedigree in his bloodlines. The sire, Exchange Rate is out of Danzig, and the dam Maliziosa is from Dynaformer. Both sires have made their mark as turf sires at the highest levels of performances. But the value for Ringold may come from an equipment change by trainer David Fawkes (who is more known for his dirt sprinters). Fawkes has a 40% winning percentage this year when taking blinkers off. In three lifetime races Ringold showed improved form when put on the turf in his last race, and should benefit from having the blinkers taken off.

Recall Dynaformer (8), 12-1, is the other horse in this race with Dynaformer in his bloodlines. However this is his first race to be run and could turn out to be any kind of horse. Not only that but he is a first time starter who is trained by the cagey veteran Roger Attfield. Attfield enters this one after a consistent pattern of workouts that culminated in strong works including a bullet gate workout and a sharp six furlong workout. Although he is not known for sending a lot of first time winners out, Attfield's percentages of .18% first time turf, and .17% debut race at a mile or greater are better than his normal winning percentages and should offer a good price.

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