How Knowing a Horse's Family History Can Lead to Winning Bets

April 10th, 2018

Family History of Horses and Handicapping

When handicapping horse races, it can be a subtle but significant advantage to know the history of a given horse’s close relatives and the circumstances under which they excelled on the track.

One of my favorite examples involves a broodmare named Ava Knowsthecode. Born in 1994, Ava Knowsthecode didn’t exactly light up the sport with her own racing exploits, but she was reasonably talented, winning three races and placing third in the Senorita Stakes (gr. III) over the turf course at Hollywood Park.

But although Ava Knowsthecode did her best work on grass, her foals have generally been more successful on dirt, especially when they encounter wet, sealed tracks. Under those tricky conditions, they have proven seemingly unstoppable.

One of Ava Knowsthecode’s earliest foals was Keyed Entry, a talented son of Honour and Glory. A very fast sprinter, Keyed Entry met up with a sloppy, sealed track in the 2006 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). That race was supposed to result in an easy win for the heavy favorite and Grade 1 winner First Samurai, but instead, Keyed Entry set a quick pace and cruised to victory.

In 2011, Ava Knowsthecode’s star runner was Justin Phillip, ironically, a son of First Samurai. Many of his earliest races yielded disappointing results, but whenever Justin Phillip encountered wet going, he turned into a different horse. His first three starts on wet tracks yielded an allowance win, a strong third-place finish in the Jerome Stakes (gr. II), and an easy win in the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II).

The following year, Algorithms—sired by Bernardini, winner of the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) over a sloppy, sealed trackplaced his dam’s name back in the spotlight when he scored an impressive win in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), defeating the champion Hansen by five lengths. Not surprisingly, the track that day was sloppy and sealed.

Thus, anyone who knew the history of Ava Knowsthecode’s success on wet tracks had to be intrigued when Algorithms' full brother Greenpointcrusader turned up in the 2015 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park. Coming off of a maiden win at Saratoga, Greenpointcrusader was somewhat overlooked against a competitive field that included the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Ralis, and as a result he was allowed to start at odds of 6.50-1.

Those odds may have been deserved on a dry track, but the Champagne was contested over—you guessed it—a sloppy, sealed track. Handicappers that bet on Greenpointcrusader were nicely rewarded when he splashed past his rivals to win by 4 ½ lengths, returning $15 for every $2 bet win bet.