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How To Handicap Horses Off A Layoff
by Greg Melikov

I've always believed it's tricky trying to handicap horses coming off long layoffs. So the next logical question: How about second time off a layoff?

One of my favorite handicappers that answered the original question is Steve Klein of the Daily Racing Form. His premise expressed several years ago:

"The theory that previous comeback attempts can accurately predict the future comeback tries is terribly flawed. It is a cherished handicapping myth that I've never seen challenged in print. The problem is that the theory assumes that all layoffs are equal. They aren't. Short layoffs aren't usually a big deal."

First, let's review some betting strategy often followed when considering horses returning to the race track no matter the length of a layoff. I favor:

Thoroughbreds that performed well in similar circumstances, preferably winning right away.

Routers over sprinters because the slower pace conserves energy.

Horses returning from short layoffs of 30 to 60 days that show a workout of four furlongs or longer within seven days of racing again.

Runners racing again after extended layoffs worked five furlongs or longer within 14 days.

Horses returning after layoffs from two months to half a year because they do better than those rested longer.

I prefer horses second time off a layoff that showed speed and faded or has a closing running style and came up short. That's because, according to many experts, a horse may have needed a freshener and should improve next time out.

However, runners should have performed well in similar, past circumstances and the trainer must have a fairly high winning percentage in this category. Remember that horses in allowance and stakes races perform better than rested claimers.

Especially watch out for horses coming off a layoff exceeding 90 days that run an uneventful race and return within 14 days. If the wait is longer than two weeks, it becomes more of a guessing game.

It's always a good idea to check out body language in the paddock or post parade whether the runner is first or second time off a layoff. For example, you might notice first-time front wraps that could signal an injury and the tape might cover enlarged ankles.

The winning percentage for first-time front wraps is really low. Back wraps don't seem to matter.

Many experts agree that a horse's lucky number is 3 as in running third time off a layoff. That's considered the most crucial start after a rest. And it makes no difference the distance.

Third time off a layoff is best, some say, provided the second start was a sprint and the runner performed well.

Third time off a layoff is best in routes, others say, when preceded by a pair of improving sprints.

I have no hard rule when it comes to distances, but the thoroughbred must show improvement in preceding races.

5Dimes Sportsbook