More times than not, first-time starters lose in their career debut.
That’s not a startling statement.
Yet what should stand out to handicappers is what happened in that initial race and what it means in terms of the horse’s second start.
When a horse runs a solid race in its debut and finishes second, it’s rather obvious that the horse will attract a lot of attention at the betting windows when it returns to the races.
Yet the better payoffs come from finding subtle signs of optimism in that initial losing start.
As an example, there’s Chess Master.
In his first start, Chess Master was entered in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race on Dec. 23 at Tampa Bay Downs that was originally scheduled to be contested at a one-mile distance on the turf. But on race day, Mother Nature intervened and the race was switched to the main track at a distance of one mile and 40 yards.
Sent off at 21-1 odds, Chess Master rushed out to grab the early lead. He was in front for the first half-mile and was still second after three-quarters of a mile. After that, fatigue set in and Chess Master faded to ninth in the field of 10.
Off that start, Chess Master was then entered in a better race by trainer Baltazar Galvan, in maiden special weight company, but at a distance of five furlongs on the turf.
That seemed a tough spot for Chess Master, until you started viewing that debut as a workout more than a barometer of Chess Master’s talents.
Here in his second race, Chess Master was racing on the surface Galvan seemed to prefer for him, which was a positive compared with a dirt race.
He was also cutting Chess Master back to a sprint distance, which made sense after watching him race on the lead in his debut.
Looking back at that initial race, perhaps it was best to view it as a beneficial six-furlong workout that built up his stamina rather than a race that exposed him as weak runner.
In trying to decide between those two options, what seemed most compelling was that Chess Master was sent off at 29.50-1 odds, giving bettors a nice risk/reward ratio – always a key factor in wagering.
For those who decided to take a chance with the appealing odds, there had to be delight when Chess Master was dueling for the lead approaching the quarter pole. There was then ecstasy when Chess Master pulled away in the stretch and recorded a two-length victory.
The payoff was a rather nice $61 for a $2 wager and a nifty lesson in how reading between the lines of a horse’s first start can sometimes be a very rewarding process.