Well the tree is down and the last traces of red party cups have been swept away from the New Year’s gala as many people end a week off that may have left them, well, lazy. With several tracks shutting down for days for the same reason, there are a lot of horses that may be lazy now too.
A good handicapping angle at this time of the year is to watch tracks that are just firing back up after the Christmas break. Tracks including the Meadowlands, Freehold, the Meadows and Yonkers shut down from about a week to 10 days. Batavia Downs closed on Dec. 7 and that circuit went dark until the move to Buffalo which started Wednesday (Jan. 8).A large number of horses at these ovals went unraced during these breaks. On the other hand, tracks including Northfield, Dover and Monticello pretty much raced their normal schedules through the holidays. So their roster of athletes remained in action.
It’s wise to pay attention to what’s going on when the down meets reconvene. Watch for horses that have raced elsewhere that ship into races with horses that have been laid off. Also watch for horses from down meets going to tracks where the locals have been getting in each week. Another thing to think about is how much training any of these horses got, considering the bad winter we are having so far this year.
The Buffalo meet offers an interesting mix of horses as it opens. Some of the local horsemen shipped to the running meets rather than shut down for a month. Others did shut down. Horses there do not have to qualify if they started at Batavia as far back as Nov. 9, if they enter at Buffalo by Feb. 2, unless they raced somewhere else AFTER Batavia closed. So early at that meet, there could be horses that haven’t raced in almost three months dropping in the box. There are a lot of variables to consider there and that will spell big payoffs as public opinion of these issues will vary at the windows.
It all depends on how you look at things, but a horse that has been racing and looking so-so could appear more like a champion if they get in the right field of “first start backers”. And on the flipside of that, a horse could be real fresh off a layoff if it got the work it needed when it was shut down. When handicapping, a lot of weight should be put on quality trainer because you can pretty much be sure those horses got out. A good hard look at the warm-ups could be the best use of your time for the next couple weeks until everyone gets their legs back under themselves once again.
It’s all about appearance, performance and common sense. And oh yes, watch the tote board too.
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