Joe Takach

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In today’s game, we as handicappers are sometimes forced to make decisions that we’d rather not make.

Cases in point: 

How many times do we see horses seeking their 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th straight win while making apparent step-ups in class and we toss them out with confidence, citing valid statistical probabilities?   We then watch them bury us with another victory after we were dumb enough to bet against them!

Or, how many times do we see horses step up to the 25K claiming level off a loss at the 20K level (or any level), and win for fun at more than generous odds after we tossed them out, reasoning that if they couldn’t win for a 20K claiming tag, how the hell could they step up? 


The apparent step-up is illusionary and really didn’t happen.

A perfect example would be the 8th race last Sunday 3/4/01 at Santa Anita.  It was a 25K claiming affair for 4 yos and up----the “bread and butter” of the claiming races  

PROUD LOUIE was seeking his 3rd straight win after winning for 16K, and then going up to 20K and doing it again while running an even faster race. 

On the surface, you would think that he was up against it wilh all the drop-downs in this 25K

9-horse affair, but most were has-beens and re-treads ready to sink even further in their next outings if necessary.  Some had won for as much as 85 to 50K in the recent past. 

But thru it all, he was the “lone F” (frontrunner), though far from the apparent “class” of the field.

The handicapping books of yesteryear would have told you to pass this race or to toss him right out unless you were getting at least 12-1 which is the “natural” odds of any horse winning 3 in a row.  At 3 minutes to post, he was fluctuating between 5-2 and 3-1 with every other flash.  As soon as LOUIE would drift up to 3-1 when the crowd poured more money on the eventual 2-1 race favorite who finished a well-beaten 5th, more money would once again rush onto LOUIE driving him down to 5-2.  He’d again rise to 3-1 and go back down a couple of more times before the gates FINALLY opened.

I took him at 5-2 and as I suspected, he wired them again for the 3rd straight time, just holding on by a half-length.  But when computing my own personal speed and pace figures the next day, I took notice that he actually ran a step slower than he did when winning at the lower 20K level 21 days earlier!

The step up in class never really occurred, although he got paid the same money for the 25K victory and had his picture taken in the winner’s circle.  

He should have run an adjusted time a tad quicker on 3/4/01 for 25K than he did on 2/11/01 when winning for 20K.

Fact is he didn’t----he just beat slower horses at a higher claiming tag!!!  The step-up was nothing more than an illusion!

If fact, I wrote up PROUD LOUIE in our SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH in the NEXT OUT BOUNCERS’ section as one who was sure to “bounce” or fail in his attempt to make it 4 in a row at the 32K claiming level-------that is, of course, unless he’s facing an even more inflated field at the 32K claiming level than he just beat at the 25K tag!

And guess what?   If that occurs, I’ll bet him again if he still looks good and tight, warms up properly and is once more the “lone speed”-----I could care less how high the purse level is inflated or how high the claiming tag appears to be. 

If the competition is bogus, it’s bogus!

And a win is a win is a win------I’ll take them any way that I can get them!

Which brings us to another scenario that I’ll caution you about.

I’ve been beaten in the past by horses stepping up off a loss in their most recent efforts!

And the losses weren’t necessarily close ones when they were beaten at apparently lower class levels.

How does this occur?  Basically, it’s the exact same principle at work.

While it might appear that a losing 20K claimer is stepping up in class when moved higher to the 25K claiming level, it sometimes depends on who he’s running against.  Many others in this specific field may be just like himself-----losers at a lower level and merely out for exercise.  But suddenly when the trainer looks over the field when the “overnights” come out, he knows his horse might win even if running a sub-par race.  In a heartbeat, the intended riding instructions of “just give him a race” turn into serious tactical instructions as if this were the plan all along.

It sometimes comes down to handicapping a race as if there WERE NO RACE CONDITIONS or claiming tags as in “Graded” races.  The purse goes to the best horse whether or not he’s ever won a “Graded” race prior to today, or for that matter, will ever win another “Graded” race in the future.

Regardless of the “listed” class level of today’s race, if nobody else has done it before in any field at this specific plateau, all could be considered somewhat equal in that they are all unproven.  It matters little where the eventual winner lost before he wins.  If he can beat the other contestants before him today, he’s a winner at this level----weak as it might be for this specific race!

Seems easy to comprehend, but whenever you see this occur or you get beaten by “lesser”, make sure your selection was all that you initially thought he was.

Chances are, he too was nothing more than a prior inflationary or an illusionary runner who was jumping in against others of very similar and questionable quality.



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