By Tom Knust
One infamous racetrack “tale” involves a prominent trainer who was being continually pestered by an owner for a condition book. The trainer, tired of being harassed, finally broke down and sent the owner a book. There was one slight problem, though. The cover had over 200 staples in it, making it impossible to open.
The story illustrates historical attitudes trainers have with giving owners access to the condition book. Why? Because some owners had a tendency to over-simplify the game. Many did not understand how to prepare a horse for a race, nor did they have the slightest understanding of how the condition book related to their horse(s). Placing a condition book in their hands meant certain frustration for the trainer.
Times have changed. Now, more than ever, owners are learning more about “the game” and want to be more active. Although the training of a racehorse is an art in itself, requiring a trainer’s attention seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, there are certain aspects that an owner can and should be involved in.
One of them is working with your trainer to determine in which race to enter your horse. To do this, an understanding of the condition book is required. Keep an open mind with regards to your trainer’s advice. Remember, you’ve hired him to train your horse-thus, the trainer probably knows where to run your horse.
As the Daily Racing Form is the Bible to the bettor, the condition book is essential to all horsemen. There are a lot of factors that the condition book addresses, so no matter how adept you get in reading a condition book, be sure to listen to your trainer, so that you can adapt.
“Conditions win races.” “When your horse is right, find a spot and run him.” It is the balance of these two philosophies that makes a trainer successful in placing his horses.
For claiming races, you’ll want to find the level at which your horse is competitive. Claiming races work like the free market at its best. If you run a horse beneath his level, so that you can win a race, you are more likely to lose him via the claim box. If you run the horse over his head, so that no one will claim him, he’ll seldom win.
In Southern California we usually write claiming races at levels in which there is an increase of 25% from one to another. For example, $10,000, $12,500, $16,000, $20,000, $25,000, $32,000, $40,000, $50,000, $62,5000, $80,000, and $100,000. For 30 days after a horse is claimed, the horse is in “jail” and must run for a claiming price of 25% higher than the price at which the horse was claimed.
Another expression commonly used is “a horse running through his conditions.” Often, a horse breaks his maiden, then wins a non-winners of two races, then a non-winners of three races, and so on. There are allowance races designed for that purpose. Hopefully, it allows a horse to find his level. (An explanation of conditions appears at the end of this article.)
The owner and trainer must take into account the competition at each level. For instance, how does the race set up for the horse? Who is the speed in the race? Knowing the peculiarities of your racehorse and the others likely to enter can help when placing your horse. And again, the trainer can take your horse’s strong and weak points in considering the level to run in.
In California, condition books cover two to three weeks of the meet, and are available approximately a week in advance of the days it covers. If you would like to receive a condition book directly, please contact the track’s racing office and have them mail one directly to you. Some tracks also have their condition books available on their web site.
The condition book is a roadmap-a “Thomas Guide” for trainers and owners. If you don’t understand certain parts, don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation from your trainer or the racing secretary.
Tom Knust was the racing secretary for Santa Anita, Oak Tree, and Del Mar. He later became Kent Desormeaux’s jockey agent.
Claiming: A race in which every horse entered is for sale for the price stated in the condition book. The claiming price is the factor that keeps a “level playing field” in these races.
Allowance: A race with conditions, but without a claiming price. The conditions specified in these races determine a horse’s eligibility for the race and are the factors that keep the field “even.”
Classified Allowance: Designed for a horse that has run through his conditions. The next level of race beyond a classified allowance is a stakes race. Horses are restricted based upon their past race wins within a given time period.
Starter: An allowance race in which the basic condition is that the horse has raced for a certain claiming price within a specified period of time, or since a certain date. It is intended to give those horses competing in the claiming ranks an opportunity to race without being “risked” via a claim.
Maiden: Restricted to those horses that have yet to win a race, or “break their maiden.”
Maiden Claiming: Horses that have yet to break their maiden and are running in a race from which they may be claimed, or purchased.
Stakes Race: A race in which the owners of the entered horses contribute to the purse, usually through a nominating and entry fee. Nominations to these races close 72 hours or more before the race is run.
Handicap Race: A race in which the racing secretary sets conditions and, with a staff committee, assigns weights to each horse individually based upon an evaluation of its race record and past earnings. The racing secretary’s goal is to have all entrants cross the finish line at the same time. The weights are used as an “equalizer” for this purpose.
Graded Race: Top-of-the-line races that are internationally recognized as such, with Grade III being the lowest and Grade I being the top.
“Invitational” Stakes Race: The racing association of the current meet “invites” individual horses to compete in a given race, without requiring the owners to contribute to the purse.
Overnight Stakes Race: These stakes are not part of the track’s official stakes program, but are developed during the course of the meet. These stakes are usually of a lesser caliber than regular stakes.
Substitute Race: A race, described in the condition book for a particular day, that might be used to replace a regular race should any of the “listed” races fail to fill.
Extra Race: The racing secretary writes “extras” for those horses that don’t fit races listed in the condition book. They are written so as to not conflict with races listed in the book and take the place of a race in the book that doesn’t fill. Extras are written the day before entries are taken, and are posted on the overnight sheet and announced over the public address system during morning workouts.