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First-Time Starters
Changing Leads
by Paul Volponi

There are few things as intriguing to a horseplayer as a first-time starter. Will the horse pop at first asking and pay a big price? Will the horse need a race or two to get legs and prove a money burner? For sure the average player is at a disadvantage in handicapping first-time starters. It’s long been established that a horse’s first race belongs to his connections: the trainer, owner, exercise rider and groom who know his ability; and their own intentions. The horseplayer can only speculate.

If a horse works fast in the morning, he will usually take action on the tote board in the afternoon from the average horseplayer, who has little else to go on. This is essentially blind-money. Workouts can be misleading in evaluating a first-time starter. How hard was the horse working to achieve that time? Did he carry a 108-pound jockey or a 150-pound exercise rider? Is the trainer looking to score immediately or to give his horse experience in his first race? Fast working first-time starters are traditionally over bet and offer little value. Though first-time starters present a real challenge, there are helpful angles that bettors should consider.

Trainers
Conditioners establish patterns. Some are geared up to win with their first-time starters; others are not. Trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Bob Baffert and Linda Rice usually have their horses ready for their first events. Bill Mott is especially good with horses making debuts in turf races. However, trainers such Shug McGaughey, Allen Jerkens and John Kimmel generally try to get first-time starters experience on the racetrack.

Sires
Speed sires do well with first-time starters because most horses make their debuts in sprint races. Stay clear of horses sired by stallions known for offspring doing well on the turf or distance races in these sprint debuts. Some good speed sires are Dixieland Band, Mt. Livermore, Carson City, Mr. Greeley and Demaloot Demashoot. Among New York breds, Distinctive Pro and Belong To Me are excellent speed sires.

Post Position
Breaking from inside post-positions can be difficult for first-time starters. Inexperienced runners are easily intimidated. It’s too easy to get pinned against the rail. Stay clear of a first-timer breaking from the extreme inside post. If the horse breaks well he’ll have to fight hard early to keep position. If the horse breaks poorly, he’ll get shuffled back and has to circle the field. An outside post-position is more conducive to a good trip, especially for a first-time starter. Breaking from the outside allows the jockey to put the horse into the race when he’s ready to move, not because his hand is forced.

Types of Races
Most first-time starters perform better in sprint races. Runners generally need more experience to excel at distance. It is even more difficult for a first-time starter to win a route race on the turf. You should only back first-time starters racing between four and six furlongs on the dirt.

Off-Tracks
Only back first-time starters over an off-track if their breeding for such a surface is exceptional. No first-timer needs the added problem of mud kicked back in his face. Some fine off-track sires include Valid Appeal, Summer Squall, Mining, Cryptoclearance, Wild Again and Seeking the Gold. Among New York sires, Cure the Blues’ offspring are usually solid on an off-track.

The Tote Board
First-time starters that take serious money are usually bet well in all the pools. You should be extremely leery of first-timers solely taking money in the win pool.

Workouts
First-time starters should be working every six days or so before their debuts. That will at least tell you the horse is healthy and consistent.

Tips
Forget them! If the horse couldn’t lose his first race, they probably wouldn’t have told you. First-time starters are a risky proposition—choose wisely!

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