Four tips for handicapping first time starters

March 25th, 2020

Tips For Betting A Horses First Race

Wagering on horse racing is not an easy task. I think that’s a fair statement that applies to most handicappers. And what presents an even more difficult assignment to many is how to bet on first-time starters.

I have enjoyed a good measure of my success over the years with horses that have yet to compete in a race, in large part thanks to data provided by Brisnet. There are numerous factors that go into deciphering which first-time starters might be ready to roll on debut, including post position, workouts, ownership groups, jockeys’ decisions, etc.

Here are four of the vital factors that I rely on the most:


This one is fairly self-explanatory. Using trainer stats highlights which conditioners are productive with debut runners, and which ones don’t necessarily excel first time out. The Brisnet PP’s will provide handicappers with a trainer’s debut win percentage, which is quite helpful. It is far from an exact science but it helps immensely, and not only in the obvious ways.

(Example: If a first timer is well-backed for a trainer with a low win percentage on debut, I pay extra attention to that contender)


A horse’s lineage can be an indicator as to what is to be expected from youngsters. Some horses are bred to be "early types," while others are mated with the intention of being better as they mature. Using the first-out win percentage of sires provided in past performances aids in the process.

(Example: Into Mischief topped the General Sire list last campaign and his babies are often precocious, as he proved with a smashing 41 2-year-old winners in 2019. Curlin, on the contrary, was second on the General Sire List but had just 7 juvenile winners last season).

Sales Price (when applicable)

The price of a horse is a big tool that I rely upon, with special emphasis on the juvenile sales. Where horses sold as weanlings and yearlings are often based on pedigree and physical conformation, the juvenile sales tend to put an emphasis on performance in the breeze-up show. Sales reports from Brisnet are a great tool to utilize.

(Example: Rebel [G2] victor Nadal was a $65,000 yearling purchase who brought a hefty $700,000 at OBS March, and he won first time out).

The Tote Board

I find that watching the odds on first-time runners to be as valuable as any of the previous tools. In my view over years of studying juvenile races, I have found that there aren’t too many secrets when it comes to debuting runners, in general. A "live" horse on the board often leads to positive performance on the track, just as a contender who is "dead on the board" can often fail to impact a race. Follow the money.

(Example: Gamine, who is by Into Mischief and trained by fine debut conditioner Bob Baffert, went off at miniscule 1-10 odds in her first showing and romped on March 7).