RUNNERS WANTED. Experience preferred.

A horse heads onto the track earlier this year at Del Mar. In Southern California, 2-yo and 3-yo first-time starters are winning less frequently than in the past

I noticed an eye-opening trend recently. Since the beginning of 2009, young horses — 2- year-olds and 3-year-olds — making their first lifetime starts at So. California tracks are not winning with the frequency they once did, and almost all of them are unprofitable long-term plays.

Maybe it’s the synthetic tracks, maybe it’s a short-term variance to be fixed by the law of large numbers, or maybe during these tough economic times, owners want some second, third or fourth place purse money before going for the big prize.

In any event, the only young debut horses that are worth a wager these days are those saddled by trainers with an overall win rate of 20 percent or more.

In this study, I looked at first-time starters in maiden sprints for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds at Southern California tracks that ran from November 1, 2006 to December 31, 2008. Then I compared them to debuters that ran from January 1, 2009 to May 23, 2010. I did not use any first timers in races written for horses 3-year-olds and up or 4-year-olds and up. Those types of debuters are in a whole different world. 

I used early foals only — those born in January, February and March — because those are the ones who win most frequently. Then I looked at two trainer groups — the ones whose winning percentages were 20 or more on the day the debuter ran, and those  trainers with winning percentages of less than 20. 

Finally, I broke it down by odds: Horses that were between 7/2 and 9/1, and those whose post time odds were between 10/1 to 19/1.

This is what I found out: Before 2009, trainers with less than a 20 percent win rate who saddled first-time starters with odds between 10/1 and 19/1 won 29 of 299 races or 9.6 percent. A $1 bet on all 299 runners returned $1.50 for every $1 wagered.

However after 2009, these sub-20 percent trainers won with only 7 of 140, or 5 percent, of their runners in the 10/1 to 19/1 odds range. If someone were to bet $1 on all of them after 2009, they would have gotten back just 65 cents for every $1 bet.

In the sub-20 percent winning trainer group, I also looked at their debuters at odds of between 7/2 and 9/1, who had at least two workouts in the top 20 percent for that day’s distance.  Before 2009, the sub-20 percent trainers’ first timers won 26 or 134 races, or 19.4 percent, for an ROI of $1.43 for every $1 wagered.

But after 2009, just 8 of 56 of these 7/2 to 9/1-odds debuters won. The 14 percent win rate gave somebody who wagered $1 on each horse a return of just 90 cents.

Trainer Bob Baffert signs an autograph in Del Mar's paddock. Baffert is the kind of high percentage trainer that is still a good bet with debuters

For the track’s best horsemen, first-time starters going off at odds between 7/2 and 9/1 with two good works is still an extremely strong bet. But once their odds hit 10/1 to 19/1, it becomes less clear.

Before 2009, trainers with an overall record of at least 20 percent wins, had 9 victories in 37 tries, or 24 percent, with first-time starters between 7/2 and 9/1. Every $1 bet returned $1.61. After 2009, the record of these trainers strengthened with debuters between 7/2 and 9/1 to 34.7 percent with 8 wins in 23 starts for an ROI of $2.26 for every $1 wagered. 

Before 2009, at odds of 10/1 to 19/1, these 20-percent-plus trainers won 9 of 61 starts for a win rate of 14.7 percent. Backers got $2.16 for every $1 bet. However, after 2009, these top trainers won just 3 of 32 starts in this odds range for a return of $1.15 for every $1 bet.

In summary, these days, 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds making their first lifetime starts are only strong wagers if the trainer’s win rate is 20 percent or more, the runner has at least two good workouts, and the horse’s odds are between 7/2 and 9/1.

Betting any other first timer is a shaky proposition.

Eight years

Bob Baffert announced to his Facebook friends that today is his eight-year wedding anniversary to his wife, Jill. They were married just before War Emblem’s Haskell Stakes in 2002.

Also, Baffert said that Lookin at Lucky is recovering well from the 102-degree temperature that he suffered this morning.

Owner Mike Pegram and Baffert were considering the Travers before the setback, but now the 3-year-old colt will not run at Saratoga.

Lookin at Lucky will stay at Monmouth Park until completely healthy, Baffert said.

Results, Sunday Del Mar Race 3 – lost $1,000

Riding for trainer Marty Jones, jockey Joel Rosario took #3 Hugs to All wire-to-wire.

Well, everything in this race was pointing to #9 Breakmark. He was a second-time starter dropping in class after a long layoff.

This type of horse has been very good to me in the past. In fact, of the last 20 of these types that were less than 8/1, 14 were winners.

Also, the colt’s owner, Martin Wygod is scheduled to sell 110 of his horses at a special Barrett’s Equine Ltd. sale on Oct. 12. So, why would he care if Benchmark got claimed? 

Everything was a go. Except nobody told the horse.

Benchmark broke slowly from the far outside. He showed a little run on the backstretch, then he faded to last in the stretch as the 5/2 favorite.

But for Wygod, there was at least some good news. After the race, it was announced that Benchmark was claimed by owner-trainer Steve Knapp for $40,000.

Meanwhile, a horse can’t win the race if he never gets the lead. Knowing this, jockey Joel Rosario went right to the front with the gray #3 Hugs to All. Rosario slowed the pace down just enough to allow this Harris Farms front runner to have something left for the drive.

Hugs to All held off #5 Fortunate Appeal by a neck and paid $7.80.

I wagered $1,000 on #9 Benchmark.

1 1 It’s Not Unusual (CA) Bejarano R O’Neill D 9.10 4
2 2 Melo Laser (CA) Espinoza V Herrick J 31.10 3
3 3 Hugs to All (CA) Rosario J Jones M 2.90 1
4 4 Salah Salah (CA) Flores D Solis W 6.10 5
5 5 Fortunate Appeal (CA) Pedroza M Machowsky M 2.90 2
6 6 Sea Viper (CA) Santiago Reyes C Periban J 12.10 8
7 7 Romeo Royale (CA) Nakatani C Abrams B 32.10 6
8 8 Jump On Board (CA) Quinonez A Capestro P 51.30 7
9 9 Breakmark (CA) Valenzuela P Shirreffs J 2.50 9
Pgm Win Place Show
3 $7.80 $3.80 $2.80
5 $3.60 $2.80
2 $6.80
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $13.50 (3-5)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $16.80 (3-3-3)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $1081.70 (3-5-2-1)

Results, Del Mar Saturday Race 2 — lost $400


Jockey Joe Talamo gets #5 Ribat up in time to dead heat with #3 Asno Del Caramelo Saturday

When I was preparing for this race, it looked as if value would be found betting against the Bob Baffert-trained first-time starter, #8 Benergy.

It’s not because Benergy couldn’t win. He could. But I chose against him because he was the 5/2 morning line favorite and he was likely to be bet too low to justify his chances of victory.

However, the veterinarian scratched Benergy in the morning, so it made this race a bit more difficult to play.

Trainer Mark Glatt had 2-year-old colt Asno Del Caramelo ready to run on Saturday

Anyway, just one of the three horses that I thought might run well, 6 Gahnzo Bob, had a bettable price. And jockey Corey Nakatani gunned him for the lead even though in his July 4 debut, Gahnzo Bob was in last place after a quarter mile.  

Going for the lead so early was a curious move by both Nakatani and by Patrick Valenzuela. P Val rode  #1 Joburg Star, who was another horse who led early in this race after not showing speed in the past.  Maybe they thought the pace would be soft and their horses would last. But 6 furlongs is not like 5 furlongs or even 5-1/2 furlongs where speed dominates. At 6 furlongs, the race plays much more fair to pressers and stretch runners.

When the race began, Joburg Star shot to the front with Gahnzo Bob on his flank as race caller Trevor Denman said “they could not be going any quicker.” Jockey Martin Pedroza, riding #3 Asno Del Caramelo, sat behind the leaders and cut the corner on the rail to surge to the front at the top of the lane as Denman announced “now that fast early pace taking its toll.”

Just then, #5 Ribat started making his run from far back. In deep stretch,  Ribat quickly came into the picture, but gained slowly on Asno Del Caramelo during the last sixteenth of a mile until both noses simultaneously hit the wire.

I ended up putting $100 to win on #2 Alert Rocket at 19/1 and $300 to win on #6 Gahnzo Bob.

1 1 Joburg Star (KY) Valenzuela P Miller P 3.50 5
2 2 Alert Rocket (KY) Espinoza V Gallagher P 19.30 6
3 3 Asno Del Caramelo (PA) Pedroza M Glatt M 1.60 1
4 4 Baby Tate (CA) Bejarano R Mullins J 2.90 7
5 5 Ribat (KY) Talamo J Periban J 8.40 1
6 6 Gahnzo Bob (KY) Nakatani C Pender M 8.90 4
7 7 Riveting Reason (KY) Quinonez A Cho M 11.30 3
SCR Benergy (KY) Garcia M Baffert B
Pgm Win Place Show
5 $7.20 $6.60 $3.80
3 $3.20 $3.40 $3.00
7 $5.00
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $14.00 (5-3)
$1.00 Exacta paid $9.50 (3-5)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $274.00 (3-5-7-6)

Results, Friday Del Mar Race 3 — won $90

Jockey David Flores shot to the lead on #5 Missilette and never looked back

In this race, seven of the 12 fillies that went to post were running for the first time. But it was #5 Missilette, who was making her fifth start, that dominated the race from start to finish.

Back on June 10, Missilette competed in her only claiming race. She got the lead early and was cruising by three lengths in the stretch before Gator AtFonz’s nailed her.

In that race, Missilette showed that she had legitimate early speed for this class. And at 5-1/2 furlongs early speed is important and these days experience is too.

In fact, since the beginning of 2009, 2-year-old and 3-year-old horses making their debuts at odds of 7/2 to 19/1 have won much less frequently than first timers did in 2007 and 2008. I don’t know what is causing this, but it’s possibly the synthetic surfaces.

Anyway, in this race, Flores hustled Missilette hard from the gate to get the early advantage. She led #9 Darling Disarray and the other eight runners by a length down the backstretch.

On the turn, Martin Garcia was all out on Darling Disarray, but the filly was not gaining ground. At the top of the stretch, Missilette and Darling Disarray were 3-1/2 lengths ahead of the other runners. Missilette pulled away and Darling Disarray tired, but held on for second place.

I ended up betting $300 to win on #9 Darling Disarray at 5/1 and $200 on #1 Darling Ciana at 14/1. Also, I played $30  exactas with Missilette on top and I caught the 5-9 $1 payoff of $22.50.

1 1 Darling Ciana (KY) Talamo J Sherman A 14.10 6
2 2 Eloquence (KY) Nakatani C Fulmer D 42.00 8
3 3 Sparrow (FL) Rosario J Ward W 1.70 3
4 4 Sweet Consolidator (KY) Santiago Reyes C Bonde J 15.70 5
5 5 Missilette (CA) Flores D Solis W 3.20 1
6 6 Amor de Mi Alma (NM) Medellin A Gonzalez S 66.80 12
7 7 Planet Janet (CA) Atkinson P Truman E 35.10 10
9 8 Darling Disarray (KY) Garcia M Hollendorfer J 5.30 2
10 9 Natural Pearl (CA) Quinonez A Machowsky M 26.10 9
11 10 Lucky Sis (CA) Pedroza M O’Neill D 7.40 4
12 11 Lemon Drop Ridge (KY) Garcia M Stute G 15.60 7
13 12 Mama’s Spell (CA) Espinoza V Lewis C 52.90 11
SCR Family Plan (FL)    
SCR The Zapana (KY) Atkinson P Hendricks D
Pgm Win Place Show
5 $8.40 $4.20 $3.20
9 $5.60 $3.40
3 $3.20
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $22.50 (5-9)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $55.30 (2-3-5)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $193.80 (5-9-3-11)

Results, Thursday Del Mar Race 3 — lost $1,000

Jockey Martin Garcia eased #1 Lost Prophet to the lead then poured it on in the stretch.

Looking at this race beforehand, it was easy to tell that #1 Lost Prophet was a contender. She clearly had the best speed, trainer Mike Mitchell has an outstanding long-term record with horses he just claimed, and she worked a bullet on July 23.

Her only drawback was that 7-furlong races are not usually won by horses on the lead. They are mostly won by horses like #3 Indiara and #4 Kaysa Deeya that either press the pace or run midpack then come on strong in the stretch.

As the gates opened, jockey Martin Garcia restrained Lost Prophet a bit, although the filly’s natural speed got her to the lead anyway. On the backstretch, she was able to establish a clear one-length lead with minimal encouragement by Garcia.

In second place, #6 East Lake Shore was plugging away until midway on the turn when #4 Kaysa Deeya passed her rather easily. In the stretch, Lost Prophet widened her lead to win by 8-1/2 lengths, while Kaysa Deeya ran on strongly under jockey Patrick Valenzuela, but was no match.

At 3/1 on the morning line, I planned to wager $700 on Lost Prophet at odds of 5/2 to 4/1, but since she went off at 6/5 my betting plan changed. Instead, my $700 bet went to #4 Kaysa Deeya at 9/1 and I also put $300 to win on #6 East Lake Shore at 11/1.

1 1 Lost Prophet (KY) Garcia M Mitchell M 1.20 1
2 2 Pocatello Wild Kat (CA) Nakatani C Fanning J 23.60 5
3 3 Indiara (KY) Bejarano R Harty E 1.80 4
4 4 Kaysa Deeya (KY) Espinoza V Sadler J 9.90 2
5 5 My Romance (KY) Smith M Headley B 6.60 7
6 6 East Lake Shore (FL) Rosario J Yakteen T 11.90 6
7 7 Lisa Lulu (CA) Pedroza M Abrams B 18.80 3
Pgm Win Place Show
1 $4.40 $3.60 $3.20
4 $7.00 $4.60
7 $5.80
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $17.40 (1-4)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $27.00 (2-6-1)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $300.90 (1-4-7-3)


Results, Del Mar Wednesday Race 8 — lost $290

Joel Rosario won Wednesday's 8th race for trainer Peter Miller aboard #13 Offlee Wild Boys.

Anybody wagering on these maiden races better take a close look at the horse jockey Joel Rosario is riding. Rosario’s new agent Ronnie Ebanks called him the best young rider he has ever seen, and I am starting to believe him.

Coming into the race, #13 Offlee Wild Boys had competed four times in maiden special weight company, showing speed in most of those events before fading. In this $40,000 maiden claiming race, the switch to Rosario and the drop in class were helpful, as Offlee Wild Boys broke on top then settled two lengths off a three-way speed duel on the backstretch.

Rosario made his move three paths wide on the turn and blew by leaders #6 Bold Fresh and #1 Tahoe Yodeler by the time the field hit the top of the lane. Offlee Wild Boys stayed strong in the stretch without being challenged to prevail by 2-1/2 lengths.  

Before the race, I was watching the odds on a pair of first time starters — #5 Call Me Later and #10 Warrens Heartthrob for possible bets. Also, #1 Tahoe Yodeler, #9 Beer Friday and #12 Swiss Tart were all possibilities at the right odds.

However, only Call Me Later, at 5/1, fell into the odds range. He ran in the middle of the pack then made a mild run to finish fourth without ever challenging for the win.

1 1 Tahoe Yodeler (CA) Quinonez A Bonde J 7.30 5
2 2 Red Mountain (CA) Gonzalez A Dahl T 47.90 11
3 3 Trouble Rules (CA) Smith M Fanning J 16.30 7
4 4 Swiss Hero (CA) Bejarano R Periban J 14.70 2
5 5 Call Me Later (CA) Talamo J Hollendorfer J 5.40 4
6 6 Bold Fresh (CA) Espinoza V Kruljac J 13.30 10
7 7 Curly Boy (CA) Valdez F Moger, Jr. E 31.70 8
8 8 Destined Journey (CA) Atkinson P Aguayo V 50.40 9
9 9 Beer Friday (CA) Blanc B Lloyd J 29.30 12
10 10 Warrens Heartthrob (CA) Verenzuela J Sise, Jr. C 21.10 6
12 11 Swiss Tart (CA) Santiago Reyes C Harrington M 1.80 3
13 12 Offlee Wild Boys (CA) Rosario J Miller P 3.60 1
SCR Georgia’s Friend (CA)    
Pgm Win Place Show
13 $9.20 $5.20 $3.60
4 $10.60 $4.80
12 $3.00
Exotic Payoffs
$0.50 Pick 4 paid $654.55 (10-9-1-13)
$1.00 Exacta paid $45.50 (13-4)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $247.70 (9-1-13)
$1.00 Place Pick All paid $3507.50 (8 OF 8)
$1.00 Super High Five paid $1967.20 (13-4-12-5-1)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $793.30 (13-4-12-5)
$1.00 Trifecta paid $135.70 (13-4-12)
$2.00 Daily Double paid $119.60 (1-13)
$2.00 Pick 6 paid $15450.20 (5-4-10-9-1-13)
$2.00 Pick 6 paid $167.20 (5-4-10-9-1-13)
$2.00 Quinella paid $53.00 (4-13)

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