When betting lightly raced juveniles, analyze the horses they’ve run against

September 19th, 2023

When handicapping lightly raced juveniles who have only run one or two times, it’s helpful to examine the quality of horses they’ve competed against to get a feel for which runners are coming out of high-quality races.

Opening day of the 2023 September meet at Churchill Downs provided two lucrative examples of this strategy in action. In the one-mile Pocahontas (G3) for two-year-old fillies, V V’s Dream looked like a class standout. After dominating her debut at Churchill Downs by 6 1/4 lengths, V V’s Dream had finished a close second in the Debutante S. at Ellis Park, beaten only half a length by a filly named Brightwork.

Bettors who did their research knew Brightwork had returned to win the Schuylerville (G3) and Spinaway (G1) during the competitive summer meet at Saratoga. The fact V V’s Dream came within half a length of beating Brightwork stamped V V’s Dream as the horse to beat in the Pocahontas, and bettors who backed her to 6-5 favoritism were rewarded when V V’s Dream romped to an 8 3/4-length victory over second choice Youalmosthadme. The $2 exacta paid a generous $15.34.

Later in the afternoon, the one-mile Iroquois (G3) for two-year-olds featured a clear favorite in the form of Saratoga debut winner Risk It. But a case could be made for 12-1 longshot West Saratoga to spring an upset. West Saratoga had lost his first four starts, but he’d shown steady improvement and took on a good horse named Timberlake when finishing second in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis Park. Timberlake returned to finish second in the Hopeful (G1), proving the strength of that Ellis Park contest.

Meanwhile, West Saratoga had come back to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Ellis Park over Generous Tipper, a promising colt who returned to dominate an identical race by 7 1/2 lengths. There were enough good horses in the form lines of West Saratoga to suggest he was a nice fit for the Iroquois, and bettors attuned to the caliber of competition he’d been facing were rewarded when West Saratoga beat Risk It by 1 3/4 lengths, paying $26.96 to win and triggering a $2 exacta payoff of $90.44.

It can often seem like there’s little information to go on when handicapping lightly raced juveniles. But once you analyze the horses they’ve run against, you can catch winners like V V’s Dream and West Saratoga.