Few things in handicapping are absolute. However, a few principles hold often enough that not only do I espouse them in my own work, but I am happy to cite them to anyone who may be listening.
Take the treatment of professional maidens, those horses who have raced ten, fifteen, twenty, more times without hitting the wire first. Some say they’re due; I say there is some reason they keep not winning. It’s the handicapping equivalent of the old adage about how the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Without a big change — a drop in class, a first time at a distance or surface, possibly a new trainer — those are the first horses I toss.
Usually, explaining my most basic handicapping principles makes me look knowledgeable.
Tonight, it made me look like a clown.
Before the seventh race at Hawthorne today, I was catching up with someone I know from Twitter: someone who follows racing, and who I had met at Arlington over the summer. He was out at the track with a group of his friends, most of who were not racing followers. They were betting on names, and he mentioned that his friends were all on Chu Chu Johnnie as a name bet.
Neither of us had landed on Chu Chu Johnnie. From my viewpoint, that horse broke my cardinal rule about Career Maidens™: nothing stood out about his form, and the biggest change he had going was a rider change. Still, the new rider’s 3% win rate on the year did little to inspire confidence. There were others in the field who stood out more, and though a $20,000 state-bred maiden claimer is not the most formful level of racing, it does not so completely lack form that fifteen-start maidens become appealing.
One of his friends comes by. He’s still on Chu Chu Johnnie.
I proclaim that he’s not going to make much money betting on 0-15 maidens. Career Maidens™ don’t win.
He laughs, and says he is betting by names.
The race goes off. There is enough din that I cannot hear the call clearly, and the horses are far enough away that I cannot make out where everyone is until I see them coming down the stretch.
Once the field comes into focus, I see a blue blanket with a 3 on it over the horse with a widening lead. Briefly, I think it’s the second-time starter, the Del Mar shipper. Then, I remember…no, he was the 2.
The 3 was Chu Chu Johnnie.
He crossed the wire almost four lengths in front, and paid $15.00 to win.
I laughed, and shook my head. The Chu Chu Johnnie Brigade cheered, toasted, and calculated their winning
In the long run, it’s a good thing. I had He’s Hot Sauce eight years ago, he has Chu Chu Johnnie today.
He has a story about hitting a long shot on his first time out at the track, a couple of minutes after some wise guy told him what a terrible bet those sixteen-start maidens are. He and his friends can laugh, and they all have a nice bit of beer money in his pocket. Hopefully this means they will be back at Hawthorne soon.
I’m back upstairs with egg on my face, but it washes off easily enough. Sure, my wallet is a little thinner than it was when I came out here, but it happens. I have a story about the name bettors getting the best of me, about having one of my handicapping tenets go up in flames in either the worst possible way, or the best.
It’s always good to have a story.