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Churchill Downs Handicapping Hints
Be In The Know When Meet Opens Saturday, May 16
By Jim Hurley

(Part II)
Looking For An Edge Among Churchill Downs Shippers

Tuesday, 5/12

When it comes to the Churchill Downs Spring Racing, which is about to begin with live racing Saturday, May 16 after a 3 week delay due to COVID-19 precautions and protocol there are a number of overviews I feel will aid you in maximizing your horse wagering during the duration of the meet.

Between now and Friday, May 15 I plan on posting a number of Handicapping Hints which I believe will allow you to at least streamline your analysis and allow you to separate the well-meant from the herd.

Today I’ll show you some of the stats from last year and how those might fine tune some of your analysis of where you might find an edge based on where the horses ship from to compete over the course of the next six to seven weeks at Churchill .


Obviously, due to COVID-19, this is not a typical year in thoroughbred racing any more than it is a typical spring time in any walk of life.

One of the most steadfast American traditions, the opening of the Spring Racing Meet at Churchill Downs in late April and the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May was suspended. The Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for the first Saturday in September (9/5.)

As to the delayed opening of the Spring Meet, that date has been set and racing resumes Under the Spires this Saturday, May 16.

(Evaluating Shippers Is A Little Tricky This Time Around)

While the statistical analysis of the past success or less than success of race horses shipping to Churchill Downs from around the country has remained rather steady over the years, there are a few qualifications one must be aware of as the meet unfolds.

First and foremost will be the opening week or two because of the truncated schedule set up due to the safety protocols put in place by Churchill Downs.

Those protocols begin with when the various outfits are permitted to ship their horses onto the grounds. Below is the schedule set up by race track officials.

*Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La. (May 11-13)
*Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Fla. and horses based at Florida training centers (May 14-16)
*Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. (May 17-19)
All other locales (May 20)

These dates are a very important distinction because as you will see when I show you the results of last year’s corresponding Spring Meet shippers, by far the largest contingents came from Fair Grounds and Oaklawn.

Another distinction to consider is that when those horses shipped in a year ago they were met by “local” horses already stabled at Churchill or Keeneland. Horses, many of which had run at the recently completed Keeneland Spring Meet, which was altogether cancelled this year.

So loosely evaluated, we have a number of horses who have been stabled at the two Kentucky tracks yet have not run in quite some time that will compete against shippers which will arrive for competition but do so on a staggered basis.

(The “New Normal” At The Churchill Downs Meet Is The Perfect Setup For Those With The Right Information)

Remember, I am attempting to give you a broad-based look at how the multitude of shippers has an effect on this Race Meet. So I am going to begin with last year’s statistical results, which in essence are reflective of what has transpired in years past as well.

Even though you are unlikely to see a large number of shippers in the first week of the meet as both Fair Grounds, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay horses will begin arriving only days before racing starts and Oaklawn and other after opening weekend, the statistics give us a foundation that is important moving forward.

Once I show you these statistics I will fine tune some analysis as to how to approach them.

Here are last year’s results for Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay and Aqueduct shippers as well as horses which had not raced at all yet in 2019 after running their last race at Churchill Downs during the local Fall Meet of 2018.

The numbers below are based on calculating the first race at Churchill after last racing at the designated track.

Number of horses that ran…133
Number of horses that won…28…21% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$14.23
Mean Win Payoff…$16.50
Winning Favorites…5
Beaten Favorites…7
Number of horses that ran…369
Number of horses that won…42…11.4% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$11.61
Mean Win Payoff…$25.10
Winning Favorites…14
Beaten Favorites…20
Number of horses that ran…151
Number of horses that won…10…6.6% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$19.38
Mean Win Payoff…$38.30
Winning Favorites…3
Beaten Favorites…12
Number of horses that ran…20
Number of horses that won…2…10% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$12.50
Mean Win Payoff…$12.50
Winning Favorites…1
Beaten Favorites…0
Number of horses that ran…33
Number of horses that won…3…9.1% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$14.73
Mean Win Payoff…$15.20
Winning Favorites…0
Beaten Favorites…2
CHURCHILL DOWNS (Previous Fall Meeting):
Number of horses that ran…45
Number of horses that won…7…15.6% Win Percentage
Average Win Payoff…$8.80
Mean Win Payoff…$8.50
Winning Favorites…3
Beaten Favorites…5

Or Get The Details Online Here

(In Summary…A Few Observations)

ONE – What these statistics show you is that there is no default mechanism by which you can rely on any given track’s shippers without applying additional handicapping measures. What they can do, however, is show you which tracks might provide you with an initially productive starting point.

For instance, in recent years the Fair Grounds shippers have been a step above all other locations for collectively providing live runners. In fact, last year, had you bet every single Fair Grounds shipper, even multiple ones in a given race, your $266 investment would have yielded a total return of $280.00. That is not a suggestion as to playing in such an inane way, but it does flag a serious starting point for at least a contributing live advantage if there are other solid reasons for backing a horse.

Conversely, you had better have a rather good reason for backing a Gulfstream Park shipper. I can categorically tell you that Gulfstream shippers are seldom a good starting point. Not only is this true at Churchill Downs but over the years at Keeneland, Belmont, Saratoga and other major venues as well.

TWO – Since well-known trainers such as Brad Cox, Tom Amoss and Steve Asmussen from Fair Grounds and Asmussen, Cox and Ron Moquet from Oaklawn will have a number of horses running at the Churchill Downs meet, it is important to keep in mind that these trainers will be bet more readily than others with their corresponding shippers. Again, if there are solid handicapping reasons to back a shipper from one of these locales that is outside this recognized group of conditioners you are likely adding to the value.

THREE – One final note has nothing to do with the statistics above but I believe important to remember. If you watch live races on TVG or other venues you will be “assaulted” endlessly by their commentary and selections. I am not in any way commenting on their ability or lack thereof, but use the world assault because the information streams constantly and too often approaches overload.

Remember, they are working for a wagering platform. Their ultimate goal is to get you to wager. The more they say about more horses, the more they build the pools which go through their platforms.

One of the things you will hear from them is that horses with “recency,” meaning they have competed recently, should have an edge over opponents that are working up to a race. You will also hear them say things like, “this is the third race off a layoff and that is often a signal the best race is about to happen.”

Whether or not these bromides apply in any given race is proved only by the running of that race. Overall, however, and especially at this meet, you are well advised to “not” let this influence you.

As proof for my suggestion I offer the following. Not counting first time starters that won a maiden race, last year 53% of winners were making their first start off a 31 day or longer break and over 50% of that 53% with a 50 day or longer break.

O.K. that is enough for today. I’ll return Thursday with Part III of my Churchill Downs Preview.

In the meantime, make sure you get set to begin winning at Churchill Downs and elsewhere with my DOUBLE DIGIT RACING SERVICE right here.