Del Mar and Saratoga are gearing up for another year, and well-bred babies will be making their highly anticipated debuts.


Many handicappers get out the dart board when faced with the mostly blank past performance section of maiden races.  Some horse fans scan the entries and then pick the Baffert, O’Neil, Pletcher or Ward horse.  If the race is part of a vertical combo like a Pick 4, 5 or 6, the top two or three with the lowest odds are tossed onto the ticket.

Sometimes the handicapper gets lucky. Most often not.  Doing your homework can lead to lucrative payoffs in maiden races.  My eyes light up when I see a field of first-time starters. I concentrate only on two-year-olds and follow them through the Triple Crown. Once they’ve crossed the finish line in the Belmont Stakes, I’m done with them and go back to the next generation.  So call me a cradle robber.

Betting MaidensA difficult part of handicapping maiden events continues to be data, or rather, the lack thereof.  Past performances don’t give the crucial detailed info needed to select maiden winners properly.  Compiling the data for a maiden race can be a frustrating process.  It takes time, effort and most importantly, knowledge of where to find the information.   Then comes the skill learned through trial and error to pick the runners most likely to finish in the money.


Last year, Del Mar and Saratoga combined carded over 150 races for two-year-olds during their meets. Usually, these events are part of the Pick 5 or Pick 6 sequence.


So what is the beleaguered handicapper to do?  One of two things. Either follow the steps below and spend hours finding and sorting data or get it all at Bruno de Julio’s website. Bruno With The Works now includes all of the pedigree info needed to conquer the maiden races confidently using easy to read reports.


There are several components to pedigree handicapping.  They include the four components of pedigree handicapping, work reports, trainer/jock stats, post position and prior experience.

Reviewing the starter’s lineage, plus the sire and dam’s percentage stats in the PP’s won’t tell you a whole lot.  Besides the pedigree, one must determine precocity, class, distance and surface. How the horse is breezing in the morning is another vital key.   Here’s a quick run-down of what is needed to determine accurately which entrants have the best chance to put money into your pocket.


Yes, sire stats do come into play here. Percentage of 2YO winners is a start, but what percentage of them won first time out? That’s the statistic you need to know.  A stallion’s 25% two-year-old win rate from starters is pretty good, but not if 5% win first time out. 

The female family is an important clue to precocity. How many of the siblings won or placed in their first two starts, and if our contender is a first foal, did the dam and her siblings exhibit win-early tendencies?  This information is tough for the average handicapper to find unless they have a subscription to produce records or other handicapping product. 


Yes, class can be determined before the babies run. Immediate family members who have won or placed in stakes races (a/k/a black type) is an indication of class.  But – what about the family without blacktype?  The important question is – does this family win?  If our maiden is modestly bred, yet the majority of his/her siblings won a good portion of their races, this is a good sign.  Become familiar with the auction abbreviations, such as OBS, KEE, BARR, and FTF. Look at the sales prices of two-year-olds in training. Speed sells and these babies do well in the early maiden races.

Next, figure out the average class level of the siblings or dam, if this is the first foal.  Allowance/Claimers at an “A” rated track like Saratoga or Del Mar face better competitors than those at, say, Evangeline Downs. Yes, it’s a pain to look up all this data, but if that 4-1 horse you’re eyeing doesn’t have the same class level as the rest of the field, it will show.


The summer’s events for two-year-olds are sprints, and distances don’t lengthen until late summer, early fall.  California is heavy on dirt sprints. Saratoga has a dearth of turf sprints.  Often, when a baby is ready to run, the optimal race hasn’t been carded or has filled. Some trainers just want to get some experience into their youngsters and winning the debut isn’t the goal.

A horse bred to win at middle or classic distances is obviously at a disadvantage against sprinter/miler types, especially during the summer. Their conformation is different, and it takes longer for them to develop physically.   The offspring of A.P. Indy, Empire Maker, Pioneerof The Nile, and Medaglia d’Oro to name a few, rarely win shorter sprints.  American Pharoah found the 6 ½ furlongs of his debut too short but won the Del Mar Futurity at 7 furlongs.



The same situation as distance applies to surface.  A maiden bred for turf might win on the dirt in their debut with raw talent, but not usually.  Turf-bred horses can sometimes have a different conformation than their dirt counterparts. The hoof is broad and flat and pasterns tend to be longer.  A horse bred for dirt can have a narrower, tighter foot, and shorter pasterns.  This isn’t always the case, but it is something to consider when looking at the pedigree and viewing horses in the paddock.


Knowing how the horse breezed is more important than knowing how fast he went.  Would you rather back a horse who out-worked a stablemate in hand or a horse that was pushed hard to keep up? This factor applies to every type of race, not just maidens. Work reports are one of the most valuable tools a handicapper can use for any race condition.

Physical Demeanor

confident horseBefore betting a maiden race, it is crucial to see how the horses are behaving. Or not. A little sweat never hurt anyone, especially on a hot, humid day. A first-time runner looking like a shampoo commercial can be tossed. Look for a horse that has a bounce in his step, he’s eager, maybe prancing, but not kicking, rearing or causing general havoc. There’s a shine to his coat, and you can tell he’s feeling good.

Handicapping maiden races require a ton of research. A full field of maidens can take upwards of an hour or more to thoroughly explore all of the factors and nail down the most likely runners to hit the board. Unless you’re a handicapper who loves to delve into the minutiae of handicapping maiden events, a subscription to a quality publication specializing in work and pedigree reports is a must. If you think that you don’t need one, try a trial supplement and compare your before and after ROI.