Training to Win: Graded Stakes race analyzation with James Scully [VIDEO]

August 15th, 2023

Graded stakes are specialized races - the highest levels in Thoroughbred racing - and bettors have many factors to consider when handicapping.

Here are three tips to assist when it comes to analyzing graded stakes races.

Tip number 1 – Assess the favorite

Ask yourself, is today’s race a fair fight among relative equals, or does an unfair advantage exist? Class plays a role in graded stakes, top horses will target big races that fit their abilities, and we’ve seen high-profile days where the graded stakes action turns up chalky with prohibitive favorites winning.

For example, the 2023 Belmont Stakes undercard featured a string of five consecutive winning favorites in graded stakes - Clairiere, Arabian Lion, Caravel, Cody’s Wish, and Up to the Mark – and horseplayers who like to take a stand against favorites must be willing to exercise discipline, picking their spots at the graded level.

Bad favorites can be found in graded stakes. More so than in lesser quality races, there’s a tendency for favorites to be overhyped at the graded stakes level. Move beyond recent flashy Speed figures or big win margins when evaluating the favorite, identifying their qualities and deficiencies.

Is the favorite running at their best distance? Favorites that specialize at a different distance are often best avoided. Examine whether eye-catching Speed ratings were earned beating up on weaker competition, and/or if horses benefited from perfect race shapes. Circumstances may be different today.

Many handicappers overlook the role strength of competition plays. Runaway wins over lesser rivals can be misleading. Narrow, hard-fought wins over deep fields offer more value. Reward runners who have displayed grit and determination, horses who finished fast after either applying or repelling a challenge in the middle or latter stages in races against good rivals.

Tip number 2 – Surface and distance

Keep in mind, barring a significant edge in class, graded stakes races are most often won by horses running at their preferred, or equally effective, distance and surface.

And given that many horses ship to new venues for graded stakes, examine whether they’ve been able to carry their form when shipping to other tracks.

Downgrade horses who fail to fire their best in the first appearance at a new oval, and take into account home-field advantage. Distance and surface analysis is a good tool for identifying longshot horses with value for vertical exotic wagers like the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta.

Tip number 3 – Trainer/circumstances

Experience matters in graded stakes. Top trainers know how to point horses for big races and get them to deliver peak performances. They are not learning on the fly like inexperienced trainers at the same level.

Consider the circumstances for today’s race. Is the horse being pointed toward this race or is it a set up for another graded stakes? Analyzing intentions plays a role in handicapping.

Graded stakes are a good spot for career-best performances and winners often move forward upon recent outings. Bettors don’t necessarily want to see a massive career-best effort in the last start, odds are against the horse doing it again. If a horse has proven fast enough, a steady progression in past performances is often preferable for graded stakes.

I hope the suggestions outlined here are a benefit to you. Good luck!