You never know when some snippet of racing knowledge gleaned years ago might emerge to predict a race winner. Such was the case in the last race at Woodbine on Friday when the 20-cent Jackpot Hi-5 worth more than $51,000 was won.
The first five finishers in the 12-horse field were, as you might expect, longshots. But, in this corner at least, the 15-1 morning line winner, Romeo Yankee, was no real surprise. And why not? Because the trainer, Sandy McPherson, emerged in the 1980s at my home track, Assiniboia Downs, as being the top trainer to enter first-time starters at the class level at which they can win. He left the Downs later in that decade to train at Woodbine. And here he was, placing a first-time starter in a $15,000 claiming race — not at a higher level — so a knowledgeable player could rightly conclude the four-year-old gelding had a good shot at winning the maiden race. And, in fact, as the results chart indicated, Romeo Yankee “drew off impressively” to win by more than seven lengths.
It’s funny how remote bits of trivia could surface to play a role in horse selections, isn’t it? If you’re a veteran at this game, you likely have similar stories. McPherson’s victory Friday also gave me the last laugh against criticism I received the previous Saturday in the Assiniboia Downs’ Race Book when I suggested another first-time starter from this trainer could win a race he was in at Woodbine that day. That horse, unfortunately, was scratched before I could expect either begrudging respect or continued abuse. But the victory Friday by another of McPherson’s first-time starters serves the same purpose. Thank you, Romeo Yankee. Yes, this can be a viciously competitive game, can’t it?
But that’s not the only reason this race deserves attention. Consider this race a warning. For what you might ask? For having faith in horses that haven’t raced for some time. We’re nearing the end of the 2023 racing season at Woodbine and trainers may be pushing to get one more start before the season ends or perhaps hoping to get rid of a horse they no longer want in their barn. The big favourite in that race on Friday, Fighting Irish, at odds of 6-5 hadn’t raced since July and here he was being dropped from $40,000 — when he finished second in July — to $15,000. Could the substantial drop in claiming price be considered a red flag? He finished second last.
The Woodbine season ends Sunday, Dec. 17. So there are 12 race days remaining in which you should keep the above aspect in mind. Look for horses that have been racing gamely. A big class drop may mean little if the horse is off form. There may be excellent wagering opportunities betting against horses that are taking an unusually big class drop.
Here’s another example: On Saturday, the whole Jackpot Hi-5 pool of $16,330 in Woodbine’s last race was won again when the 3-2 favourite in the maiden race, #6 Astapovo, finished eighth in the 11-horse field after being dropped from a $23,500 optional claimer to a $7,000 straight claimer.