Updated: Thursday, May 1, 2014 1:01 PM PST

Handicapping Cheap Claiming Races

Many handicappers are reluctant to wager on cheap claiming races at minor tracks. It is true that cheap horses are less formful than their more expensive counterparts. It is difficult to predict when a horse will decide to fire vs. when it will run up the track. We have a method that we believe will help you become profitable in these cheap claiming races at the small track.

Please note, that when we are referring to cheap claimers, we don't mean an $8,000 open claimer at Hollywood Park or Del Mar. Cheap claimers are the multitude of conditioned claimers for $3,000 to $5,000 found at small racetracks around North America.

  • Prefer NW2L races, but others are okay too. The NW2L races tend to be the wildest in terms of form reversals, but any cheap claiming race will do for the purpose of this method. Many of these horses have faced each other before, sometimes in the last race. Not only can you look for a form reversal, but perhaps also a reversal of fortune in terms of the order of finish.
  • The horse must have a win in its last 10 races. The past performances only go back 10 races. We are looking for a horse that has some potential. A win in the last 10 races is as good a filter as any in eliminating horses that have no chance at all of winning the race.
  • Eliminate any horse that won its last time out. Cheap claimers very seldom exhibit the ability to win two races in a row. The horses that did win last time out will often get bet down severely because of this factor alone. You may, if you wish, also eliminate horses that finished second in their last start.
  • Eliminate any horse trained by a trainer with a win percentage under 7 percent. A win percentage of less than 7 percent will put a trainer below a random chance of winning a full field race.
  • Play for a form reversal. The horses that win cheap claiming races often look like a reach on paper. Look for reasons to go as far back as possible in a horse's past performances. In other words, look for reasons to excuse a horse's prior losing efforts. Also, it is much better to have two excuses than just one. Examples of excuses include, but are not limited to: The last races was run on an off track; the last races was a route and today's race is a sprint, today's race is at a significantly lower class level, the horse is coming out of a layoff, and the horse had a troubled trip in its last race. For interested handicappers, we offer a detailed list of reasons to excuse a running line.
  • Look for hidden clues that indicate a good race today. The past performances yield numerous clues about horses that may be sitting on a big race. For example, a horse coming back within 25 days of its last race indicates a horse in a normal form cycle in terms of training and performance. Similarly, a horse that finished off board but within 4 ½ lengths of the winner in its last race, shows a horse nearing winning form. This clue is even more powerful if any of the win, place, or show horses from the last race are entered today.

Remember, even if you find a horse that looks like a solid bet based on the above criteria, you must still insist on getting a price in exchange for the risk that you are taking.