Finding Condition Book Horses
By Nicolle Neulist
The concept behind conditions is simple: they are the rules that define who can run in a race.
Some are straightforward. Races may be restricted to fillies and mares, or to horses bred or sired in a certain state. Many races have lifetime conditions, pitting horses with the same number of career wins against each other. Lifetime conditions include maiden races, non-winners of two (N2L), non-winners of three (N3L), and so on. Open claiming races allow any horse whose connections are willing to put them up for the appointed claiming tag. Starter conditions allow any horse who started for a specific claiming price or less during a defined time period to run in the race.
But often, in the claiming and allowance ranks, conditions get a little more sophisticated. A typical first-level (N1X, one-other-than) allowance consists of horses who have not won one race other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or who have not won two races in their lives. Thus, a horse who just won a maiden special weight on debut would qualify – but so would that salty old gelding whose twenty wins have all come in claimers. There are also allowance optional claiming and starter optional claiming conditions – in other words, horses who enter can either fit the defined condition, or go up for a defined claiming tag.
Trainers spend time and energy poring through the condition books, finding a race that not only suits their horse by surface or distance, but also to find a race in which their horse may have a competitive advantage. As a handicapper and contest player, it can pay to pick apart the conditions of each race, and take a few moments to identify any horses who tightly fit the conditions.
Consider the third race at Arlington on July 10, 2016. The race was an Illinois-bred N1X. The way those are drawn on the Chicago circuit, they are open to non-winners of $9,800 once other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or non-winners of two races lifetime. The money condition rarely comes into play – but it did that time with a horse named D’ Rapper. D’ Rapper had broken his maiden downstate at Fairmount. He followed that up with a dominant victory in an open allowance optional claiming race, also at Fairmount, where he raced under the allowance condition. With both a maiden win and an allowance win, D’ Rapper looked like a two-other-than. But, his winner’s share in the allowance race was just $8,256. That slipped under the money threshold, so he qualified for the N1X condition in Chicago. Of course, there were questions aside from the conditions – Arlington company typically skews tougher than Fairmount, and D’ Rapper had never tried polytrack. Anyone willing to give the condition book horse a shot got a square 7/2 on him. D’ Rapper rewarded those gamblers, winning by 3½ lengths.
The claiming ranks also contain conditions worth dissecting. Consider the sixth race at Arlington on July 23, 2016. It was a 1 1/16 mile turf route, $10,000 claiming, for non-winners of three lifetime races…except, races in which a horse was entered for a claiming tag of $6,250 or less did not count toward eligibility. Most of the horses in the race had just two career wins – fitting the normal N3L condition. Turbulent War had four. However, since two of them had come in $5,000 claiming races, he only had two wins above the condition threshold. The fact that he had four wins made him stand out, and looking at him further only made him look better. His speeds were competitive, and he had the top jockey in the colony aboard. Even though he had never won on turf before, he had only tried it once before and was half to a turf winner. Though the public ended up betting Turbulent War down to 6/5 favoritism, he had enough going for him to be a logical single on a multi-race wager, or a safe “small-ball” contest horse for a player trying to protect a lead or advance in a show survivor-style game. On the track, Turbulent War proved as well-meant as advertised; he crossed the wire 3¾ lengths clear of his competition.
These particular conditions are typical on the Chicago circuit, but rest assured you will find sophisticated conditions on any circuit you may follow. For example, some circuits give breaks to state-bred horses, such as Mountaineer not counting wins in West Virginia-bred races against lifetime conditions in claiming races. So, if there’s a West Virginia-bred with five wins running against a bunch of other horses with two, take a look. Many circuits have claiming conditions for non-winners in a time period. For example, if the race is for non-winners since January 27 and one of the horses last won within a few days of that, take a look at that horse.
The conditions may seem esoteric at first, but do not be discouraged. Take the time to learn what they mean. If you continue to follow a particular circuit, you will likely see the same ones over and over again. You will get good at spotting the horses who fit most snugly. Not every race will have a particularly clever condition book fit and not every clever condition book fit will be the perfect horse for the race. But, you will find live horses often enough to make reading and learning conditions a profitable addition to your handicapping arsenal.