Dec 4 2014

Racing Into Form – How To Recognize A Public Workout

In the introductory article on Racing Form, we listed a subtopic called “Racing Into Form.”  Click here for a review of the introduction on Form.  Nearly every trainer at one time or another has been called into the racing secretary’s office and asked the following question: “We need to fill the fifth race on Sunday. Can you do me a favor and enter your horse in there?” The trainer knows that favors are a 2-way street when it comes to dealing with the racing secretary.  So, more times than not, he/she obliges (presuming of course that his horse is sound).

However, being sound does not necessarily mean that his horse is perfectly fit.  His verbal reply to the racing secretary might be, “Yea, sure … glad to help you out.”  While he’s thinking to himself, I was hoping to get a couple more workouts into him before his next race, but if he wants me to enter my horse on Sunday and work him out in public … so be it.

Under the right conditions, this is a good situation, and an easy decision for the trainer.  Conditions such as:

  • The distance of the race is not particularly taxing.
  • He has no chance of losing the horse in a claim from another trainer.  Click here for a review of Claiming races.
  • He has a reliable jockey that knows the purpose of the race is to prepare the horse for another race and will not punish him during the upcoming race.

Let’s consider an Example:

In the 13th race (1 Mile and 70 Yards on the turf) at Kentucky Downs on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 … a horse was entered possessing the characteristics of this exact scenario.  His Past Performances (PPs) appear below.

Knows How to Rock - Racing into Form

The most recent race on August 26 at Indiana Downs is the race we’re going to focus on for this example. On the surface it appears to be a rather lackluster performance,  finishing 5th in a field of five by nearly 8 lengths.  But after reviewing the race chart and watching the video replay of the race a familiar scenario begins to appear.

Knows How to Rock was completely overmatched in that August 26 race.  In a field of five, he was facing four horses possessing Beyer Figures from 10-30 points higher than him.  He went off at odds of 31-1.  In the video replay, it was obvious that the jockey was letting him run under his own effort with minimal urging.  Maybe a little squeeze of the hands and an obligatory tap of the whip, but that was it.  No more than you would do in a morning workout.  I wrote on my PPs these words “Completely overmatched. Public workout.

Thinking about the “right” conditions listed above, how does this race on August 26 measure up?

  • The distance of the race is not particularly taxing. 6 Furlongs is just slightly more than a typical workout of 4 to 5 furlongs.
  • He has no chance of losing the horse in a claim from another trainer. The horse was entered under allowance conditions (non-winner of more than one – n1x), so he could not be claimed. Click here for a review of allowance conditions.
  • Having a reliable jockey that knows the purpose of the race is to prepare the horse for another race and will not punish him during the upcoming race.  The jockey was AL Castanon, who had ridden him before, and happens to have the same last name as the trainer.  Maybe just a coincidence.

Now, back to the September 18 race at Kentucky Downs.  There were a couple of reasons to like Knows How To Rock that day.  He was returning to the turf, a surface that produced his best effort, finishing 2nd on August 7.  He had a solid recent workout, which showed he was responding nicely to a new trainer.  His Beyer Figures had improved four consecutive races {23,46,63,66}.  And in fact, his Beyer Figure {63} for his lone turf race was only 2 points less than the top Figure for the 3-1 favorite Scandalo in the Kentucky Downs race.

But, maybe the best reason to like Knows How To Rock was his post-time odds of 13-1.  It was obvious that his 5th place finish in the last race had diverted the public’s attention away from him.  Handicappers that recognized his last race was merely a “public workout” were rewarded handsomely with a $28 score.

It’s important to recognize that the trainer is not necessarily acting clandestinely in these situations.  It’s quite possible in the example we just provided that the trainer is just responding to the needs of the racing secretary and helping to fill a short field.  The trick for the horseplayer is to decipher these intentions when they occur.

At this time we repeat a comment made in the article introducing the topic of Racing Form:

Among the basic elements of Handicapping (Distance, Class, Form, and Pace) … Form might intuitively be the easiest to understand, but practically the most difficult to master.


Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit
Edward Jones Frank Marchesini

2 comments on “Racing Into Form – How To Recognize A Public Workout

  1. Neal,

    I have often speculated how to determine whether a horse is in just for a work or was entered to compete when you see them jog around the track. Once again video analysis helps to answer the question.

    Thanks for the help.

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