Finding value in maiden claiming races

Maiden claiming races are the lowest races on the class scale and arguably the least entertaining to watch. None of the entrants have won a single race, and all are for sale.

But are maiden claimers the worst betting proposition in racing? Personal handicapping style dictates your answer to that question.

I find plays in maiden claiming races with regularity. That's because a large portion of my approach is based on talent evaluation of young horses. Maiden claiming races are relatively devoid of talent, so even the smallest traces of ability can lead to the winner's circle. And those traces aren't always obvious to the betting public.

Here are a few ways I look for value in maiden claiming races:

First-time starters in maiden claiming races deserve special attention. Common sense says that if an owner has made the decision to sell a horse before it even has run its first race, that is a giant vote of No Confidence in that horse's abilities. For the most part, common sense is right. First-time starters, especially at the lower levels of maiden claiming ($10,000 or lower), are bad bets.

Taking things a little further, if the horse sold at public auction, the past performances will note the selling price (on BRIS and DRF PPs, the auction information appears directly above the pedigree.) If the auction price is higher than the debut maiden claiming price, throw the horse out. If an owner is willing to take a loss before the horse has raced, that is a sign of major physical problems and/or a complete lack of talent.

If a debuting maiden claimer does not have an auction record, look to the sire's stud fee (it appears directly after the sire's name). Add $10,000 to the stud fee and you will have a rudimentary, lowball estimate of what it cost to produce the horse. Now compare that number with today's claiming tag. Again, horses that are being offered for sale in their debut for less money than they cost to produce are bad bets. On the other hand, a horse produced on a low stud fee, say $7,500, that is debuting for maiden claiming $40,000, could be very well meant.

The next thing to do is identify which trainers in the race win on the debut with maiden claimers with regularity (10-15% of the time or more). Very few trainers will meet this criteria. If you are going to bet on a first-time starter in a maiden claiming event, try to focus on trainers that win with 15% or more of their starters in that scenario. Note that a debut win % is not the same as a debut maiden claiming % (For example, DRF Formulator has separate categories for debut MSW and debut MCL). Either through good statistics or by learning your circuit, it will pay to identify which trainers specialize in this spot. The list of debuting horses you should consider in the win pool will be short. The list of throwouts will be long.

Class drops are the best source of overlaid winners in the maiden claiming ranks. In addition to facing easier competition, the class droppers can be profitable plays because they often score lowly on two areas the public overbets: finishing position and final time speed figures.

What you should be looking for in the class dropper is the slightest shred of talent. It could come in the form of early pace, an even effort, or the ability to pass just a couple horses. Those mini-moves at the maiden special weight level become winning moves in maiden claiming. There is an old handicapping rule that says if the class dropper got within two lengths of the lead at any call of a higher class race, it could be a standout on the drop.

Troubled trips are a great source of angles in maiden claiming races, both for class droppers and second-timers (second-time starters, second-time maiden claiming, etc...) A couple examples...look for horses that broke last from an inside post and then put in even the slightest of runs. Those horses can improve dramatically next out. Severe checking incidents also can be cause to forgive an effort. Maiden claimers are rarely good enough to put in a second move and win a race. If you note a horse that showed multiple moves, that's handicpping gold in the maiden claiming ranks.

The next type of horse to look for is one that delivered an above-par effort but lost at the class level. Some maiden claiming race are dreadful. But the ones won by class droppers or impressive first-timers can turn into key races quickly, producing multiple next-out winners. Either by examining past charts or making your own notes, try to identify the 'live' maiden claiming heats before the public, and look for those also-rans when they return.

The last stop in my handicapping of maiden claimers are those horses that already have run well at the class level. The problem with these horses is that they rarely offer significant value.  If you see a horse that has multiple in-the-money finishes at the class level at low odds, try to watch those races and investigate who they lost to. If the winners were ordinary and the favorite seems to find a way to lose, the horse may have unresolved psychological issues that are holding it back from winning. Look to bet against this type.


Leave a Comment:


I want to take a moment to thank you for giving your handicappint insights.  Its exactly what I'm looking for on this site.

11 Jul 2012 10:46 PM
Pedigree Ann

Being a pedigree geek, I look at the immediate female family in maiden claimers. A dam/granddam's record of producing many mulitple winners versus what you often see in low level mares, a record of futility - many unraced, unplaced, rarely placed offspring, with a couple one-time winners. Sometimes the contrast can be stark; most of the field from failing mares with one or two from solid, professional racehorse families. The cheaper the claiming price, the more likely this method is to work. Especially useful with firsters, second/third-time starters, and class-droppers.

12 Jul 2012 7:54 AM
Rusty Weisner

Pete Denk,

Did you happen to hit Monticello Doll at 26-1 on July 4?  I saw something I liked about her and took a stab at it with two of the favorites for a grand total of $4 and kicked myself when she won with a horse I didn't have underneath.  I can't remember what I liked about her -- I think she probably showed a tiny flash of something at a higher class, probably speed early.  It was a perfect illustration of where you can make money in a maiden claiming race....if you're not a screwup.

Since I don't play often as I used to, and am lured by marquee tracks on big days, it's the kind of race I don't run into nearly as much.

12 Jul 2012 10:34 AM
Rusty Weisner was early speed for 1/2 against a heavy favorite in previous MSW.  Easy as pie, huh?

12 Jul 2012 10:39 AM
Rusty Weisner

...and this was a race after it had finished well at the same maiden claiming level.

Gosh, looking back at it, I should have bet the house on her!

12 Jul 2012 10:41 AM
Rusty Weisner

Pete Denk,

To further illustrate one of your points, on the same day in R2 the two favorites were "bumped" and "turned sideways" at the break.  Goes to show that the risks of betting the favorite are greater the worse the quality of the horses, as these mishaps are more of a factor.  These races are by definition "value" races.

12 Jul 2012 10:57 AM

Pete : Great great post, as Kevin said, this is the type of info I'm looking for as well.  A lot of new information and handciapping angles.   I sometimes hndicap maiden claimers base on the trainers.  Wesley Ward was the best 2 yr old trainer when he was here on the west coast.  Carla Gaines for MSWs, she also gets value morning line odds.  THANKS!

12 Jul 2012 12:00 PM

Pete : One thing I didn't see you mention for first time starters are the workouts.  If the field is mostly first time starters, I use the workout pattern, not necessarily how fast they worked but the spacing between the workouts.  Horses that works out 6 to 7 days in between are the ones that I look at closely, meaning I check out how their odds move.

12 Jul 2012 12:07 PM
Pete Denk

Agreed Jayjay. A steady work tab is good and some semblance of speed is good.

12 Jul 2012 12:16 PM
Rusty Weisner


The work tab doesn't usually pertain to a maiden claimer, where most or all have already started.

The trainer angle is unfortunately often baked into the odds, as his stats are right there on the form.

12 Jul 2012 12:35 PM

Betting maiden claimers is often a bad bet, but betting them can also be lucrative.  Pete made a lot of good logical points and workouts I believe are important, especially if there are a few long ones like 6F.  Several things that are most important to me are:  (a), a trainer’s stats with first time starters; (b), failing in a MSW then dropping into a claimer; (c), good early speed for two calls or late closing gains for two calls in both cases against better; and (d), watching the odds board for unusual early money usually the first change or so, and for odds that are pretty well at the same level throughout.  I also learned a long time ago that if you look for big odds your chance of winning drops tremendously.  I’m never afraid to bet a maiden that is favorite or which might not be a favorite but is at relatively low odds if it figures to be there at the finish.

12 Jul 2012 2:55 PM

Rusty: Not sure what you mean by the worktab doesn't pertain to maiden claimers because they've already started.  I was talking about first time starters as those types of races are pretty much a guessing game, the workouts are the thing I can use to get an indication of what the horse can do (doesn't necessarily mean their workout reflects their abilities).

12 Jul 2012 3:56 PM
Rusty Weisner


I was talking specifically about maiden claimers.

As for the first time, particularly those 2-year old ones, I hate those, particularly at Saratoga where Pletcher always has these 4-5 horses.  I hate betting around these races.  I have no idea how you predict when they're going to lose (one such horse lost on July 4 at Belmont).  That would be another interesting subject for a blog this time of year.

12 Jul 2012 4:41 PM

Pete, can we start reviewing the Free PP races on DRF so we can see your handicapping insights more regularly?  For instance, I'm reviewing the #9 from Monmouth today, looks like both the favorites are quite beatable; not liking to pass others in the lane.  I'm going with the 6 for value.  

13 Jul 2012 8:34 AM

Thanks for the tips Pete. When I look at these types of races, I try to look at three things, 2 which you have mentioned, and 1 you have not. The two are horses dropping in class, and trying to find a horse that offer's good value b/c of a troubled trip. The third is course and distance, how  these horses run at this particular track, and how they have run at the distance. This comes into play often on synthetic courses like Keeneland and Turfway, as well as quirky tracks like the inner at Aqueduct. Good luck to all. I hope you can cash some tickets this summer.

And to piggy back on what Laz said, the Smart money is also sometimes a great indicator of a horse ready to run big. M/L 10-1, drops to 4-1 at first glance at the tote board, then climbs back up to close to morning line price. Someone made a big bet on the backside...

13 Jul 2012 8:41 AM
Pete Denk

Billy I agree about that odds pattern. Early action then a drift up is good stuff. It means the public is not on the horse.

I might do a future blog on odds patterns.

13 Jul 2012 11:43 AM

Thanks Pete and others:

Those are angles I had thrown around in my head, but had never had it so well articulated.

13 Jul 2012 8:06 PM

BHP : Going to try and beat Bejarano with the 1 and 6 in the first race :

$5 Double :  6 with 1, 6

$2 Double :  1 with 1,2,5,6,7

Belmont : Late .50 P4 ($12.00) :





Good luck to all playing today!

14 Jul 2012 3:04 PM

Hey Rusty you have hit the nail on the head regarding maiden races especially at Belmont.

I saw that race on July 4th with Pletcher at 4-5.

I did some research and found that in Maiden Special Weight races this year on the dirt the morning line favorite that was (1-5, 2-5,...,9-5) has really struggled in these situations. They have only won 10 out of 22 times which is

45%. A $44 investment yielded a loss of -$10.20 giving a negative return.

You can probably beat the favorite in these situations especially if it was a morning line favorite such as (1-5, 2-5,...,9-5).

Check out and use drop downs & select All/5 for ml odds, select Maiden Special Weight races, all dirt from 4-27-12 to 7-14-12.

Let me know what you think.

15 Jul 2012 3:20 PM

Used some of the tips in the blog to hit 2 pick 3s at Belmont on Saturday; Races 6-8, Races 8-10.  Wish I had played the Pick 4 as it paid $17K.  But happy with my $30 investment returning $345. Thanks for the tips.    

15 Jul 2012 6:55 PM

Just read that Gemologist is a possible starter in the Haskell.  Looking forward to seeing him run again.  Neck N neck is also a possible starter.  Can't wait!

15 Jul 2012 11:26 PM
Pete Denk

Thanks Kevin and Gunbow.

Good job hitting those pick 3s, Kevin.

16 Jul 2012 1:33 PM

Note to Rusty Weisner: Here is a handicapping tip BETTER than anything Mr Denk said. If you plsy ANYTHING that is 3-1 or higher, your first bet should be a WIN BET!!! No excuse..... Short cash. Sure exacta. A note from God. The best part of any good handicapper is patience and good money management. In your situation there were only 3 ways to bet that race. Two $1 exactas and a $2 win bet. a $4 win bet or a $2wp bet. Anything other than that makes the "real" handicappers more money in the long run.

16 Jul 2012 2:32 PM
Rusty Weisner


You are right.

16 Jul 2012 3:54 PM
Rusty Weisner


It's the kind of nonchalant and at the same time greedy bet someone who's losing makes.

On that note, as of last 7/4 I exceeded my budget for a while and will have to forego the pleasure of playing Saratoga. I'll be back for the Breeder's Cup, though.  Good luck to everyone in the meantime!

16 Jul 2012 4:12 PM

plodderman :  How do I get a sure exacta again, is that keying the 3-1  to all ?  Also, why play a $2 win bet on a 3-1 or 4-1 or even 5-1 ?  I guess if you like to win just for the sake of winning then yeah, I guess you can play that.  I just don't see the value of playing $2 win money on anything lower than 10-1,  Also a $2 place bet on a 3-1 ??  How much do you get back from that bet?.   I don't know anyone at all who has patience and good money management.  I set limit on my weekend playing to $500, the only thing I "manage" to do is learn not to chase my loses, that's the only way I "manage" (not losing more of) my money lol.

17 Jul 2012 2:57 AM

Man, I get good news about Gemologist and now the bad news about WTDW...

18 Jul 2012 12:02 AM

I always thought this was a one-off and you've groomed it into a system.

My lifetime best long shot (with TBs) was a maiden claiming filly who had had two outs and finished 12th and last in both of them. She was running at 4.5 f at Greenwood, which is a U-shaped sprint around a very sharp bend. First time with a shiny new bug boy she was left and showed speed just to catch her field. Next time with a journeyman she broke first from post 12, was immediately 12-wide into the bend and fell back. Third time she paid 63 to 1.

Pro gambler I hung out with sometimes gave her to me as a good thing; he'd paid $50 for the tip. Smile: I showed him my tickets.

22 Jul 2012 9:50 PM

Oh, btw, the risk/benefit calculation in running a horse below its cost is not based on the claiming price but on the claiming price plus the first place money.

22 Jul 2012 10:02 PM
Pete Denk

Thanks for the comments Cassandra. With debuting maiden claimers, I generally don't include the purse in the calculation, and here's why:

1) The cost-of-horse estimates I'm using are low. They do not come close to including all the costs of ownership, so that cancels out the purse value in most cases.

2) Most owners aren't going to assume the full winner's purse on debut. Too much can happen.

30 Jul 2012 12:56 AM

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