Why horses tackling multiple major changes can outrun their odds

December 14th, 2022

There are many reasons why a racehorse might produce an improved performance on any given day. Perhaps they’re switching racing surfaces, attempting a more favorable distance, or trying an equipment change.

Sometimes, a racehorse will tackle so many changes at once it’s impossible to project how they might respond. And while not every change triggers improvement (indeed, some spark regression), the “change everything” approach can occasionally reap big dividends.

A striking example occurred on Feb. 23, 2022 in a $7,500 maiden claimer at Turfway Park. The distance was one mile on Tapeta, and the second-longest shot in the field was Blacksmith Strong, a 20-1 morning line longshot who started at 34-1 when betting closed.

Blacksmith Strong had shown little in his first three starts, finishing fifth by 19 1/2 lengths, sixth by 16 1/4 lengths, and 11th by 24 1/2 lengths. But Blacksmith Strong was facing an entirely different set of circumstances for his fourth start:

  • He was switching from dirt to a synthetic Tapeta track.
  • He was stretching out from sprints (none longer than 6 1/2 furlongs) to one mile.
  • He was tackling a two-turn race instead of a one-turn race.
  • He was making his first start since being gelded.
  • He was racing on Lasix for the first time.
  • He was removing the blinkers he wore in his first three starts.
  • He was dropping in class from a $15,000 maiden claimer.

Any one of these changes can trigger improvement from a horse in poor form. By combining them all together, Blacksmith Strong had at least a small chance to run a dramatically improved race.

It seems many bettors viewed the bevy of changes for Blacksmith Strong as acts of desperation rather than a recipe for success. But wouldn’t you know it, Blacksmith Strong showed new spark at Turfway, settling in fourth position early on before producing a perfectly timed rally to beat the favored duo of Schenectady Star and Order of the Day by half a length.

Naturally, the payoffs were fantastic. Every $2 win bet on Blacksmith Strong returned $70.20, while the $2 exacta paid $405.20 and the $2 trifecta yielded $1,756.40. Aside from Blacksmith Strong, there was nothing illogical about the outcomes of the exacta and trifecta… and given all the changes Blacksmith Strong had in his corner, maybe he wasn’t so illogical either.