When high-class horses lose off layoffs, betting opportunities can arise

July 5th, 2023

When a high-profile racehorse suffers a defeat in their first run off a layoff, it’s tempting to forgive the misfire and assume they were a bit rusty. But that isn’t always the right betting strategy.

Sometimes a horse truly is rusty and bounces back to win their second start off the layoff. But in other cases, the loss is a sign of regression, and opposing the horse second-time out can be a wise betting strategy.

History is replete with examples, so let’s highlight a few that illustrate the point particularly well:

  • In 2009, the three-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra compiled a legendary Horse of the Year campaign, going 8-for-8 while beating male rivals three times in Grade 1 races. But she was beaten in her 2010 debut, finishing second as the 1-20 favorite in the New Orleans Ladies S. The following month, Rachel Alexandra started as the 1-5 choice in the La Troienne (G2), but she came up short again and finished second behind last-out Rampart (G3) winner Unrivaled Belle, a 9-1 longshot thanks to Rachel Alexandra’s short odds.
  • Another 2009 standout, champion female sprinter Informed Decision, wrapped up the year with consecutive victories in the Presque Isle Downs Masters (G3), Thoroughbred Club of America (G2), and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). But in her 2010 debut, Informed Decision finished third as the 1-2 favorite in the Madison (G1). One month later, she finished third again as the 2-1 favorite in the Humana Distaff (G1), a race in which last-out Las Flores H. (G3) heroine Mona de Momma prevailed at 8-1.
  • In 2017, reigning champion three-year-old male Arrogate was the toast of the town after rattling off consecutive victories in the Travers (G1), Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Pegasus World Cup (G1), and Dubai World Cup (G1). But after taking four months off to recuperate from his trip to Dubai, Arrogate suffered a shocking defeat as the 1-20 favorite in the San Diego H. (G2), finishing a distant fourth. Bettors expected Arrogate to rebound in the Pacific Classic (G1), sending him off as the 7-10 favorite, but he faltered again and finished second behind 3-1 second choice Collected.
  • Game Winner was the unstoppable two-year-old male champion of 2018, with his unblemished 4-for-4 record including triumphs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), American Pharoah (G1), and Del Mar Futurity (G1). When he returned as a three-year-old in the Rebel (G2) and finished second by a nose as the 1-2 favorite, bettors were quick to forgive his defeat, sending him off at identical 1-2 odds in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). But the result was the same—Game Winner finished second yet again, beaten half a length by the well-regarded 3-1 second choice Roadster.

At their best, Rachel Alexandra, Informed Decision, Arrogate, and Game Winner were champions worthy of strong betting support. But it’s difficult for horses to remain in peak form for long periods of time, and the defeats these four runners suffered when returning from layoffs hinted they were no longer as dominant as before. Bettors who opposed them second-time back had an opportunity to catch lucrative payoffs.

The next time you see a high-profile horse fall to defeat when returning from a layoff, consider playing against them if they’re favored in their second start back. If you can find a logical rival to support, you may be in line for a nice payday.