You know the adage winners back winners? Well that doesn’t apply in a maiden. You’ll spend half your summer trying to puzzle out which horse is going to win its first race, and which horses will inevitably spend their careers grubbing around in handicaps.

I’ve spent the last five years wondering just how to crack maidens, and ratings often point us in the right direction. However, with relatively little form to analyse, we have to project to the future and look for horses on an upward curve – the trouble being that we can’t yet see the curve.

Here’s some important things to know about maidens:

  • It’s best to back horses that have already run at least once (if you have any)
  • Certain yards have a better record than others in maidens – look for these
  • Most horses benefit from a race or two because they’re ‘green’
  • None of these horses have won before!

Let’s take a recent example – the 3:40 at Leopardstown in which we have a clutch of horses looking for their first win.

Here’s the racecard. Have a look first.

This is a perfect example of a maiden because you have a horse with three races under its belt (and no win), a couple of horses with two wins, a few with one, and a few with none. A total mixture.

So – the first question is: what do you know?

Let’s look at the market favourite first

  • The favourite rates well: a 94 in his LR and a 72 before that (which is depreciated) shows that he’s been running either in good company or in valuable races, or both – and maybe his opponents have gone on to win.
  • But… the favourite hasn’t won yet. What’s more, his speed rating dips below 60 which is unusual. That says to me that perhaps the value of his races has boosted his ratings.
  • The favourite is well-supported by jockey and trainer ratings, but his breeding isn’t strong.
  • Suitability, in this instance, doesn’t matter because you can’t compare his suitability to others, as you don’t know about them yet.

Those horses who have raced more than once…

  • Paradiso has tried three times without success. You would begin to think that his time might not come, and a future in handicaps awaits. His ratings have progressed nicely, but he’s still not winning and you have to ask why.
  • Tulong Moneyreef hasn’t yet hit 60 in the ratings and that’s not good enough.

Those horses who have raced once

  • Aiden O’Brien has put out two horses – the oft-tried Paradiso, and Numen. The latter has raced once, with a 60+ to his name, and gets the better jockey today. That’s telling when a trainer puts out two horses in one race – look for the jockey rating and you know the one he thinks will win.
  • Fraterculus rates slightly better – but not enough to make it significant – and has a slightly better speed rating. He’s not from a yard that gets a high trainer rating though, so he may not have the support of Numen, who benefits from a better jockey.
  • Overlord has a speed rating of 44 – so he started off poorly, and has a poor LR (form) rating.

And those horses who have not raced yet

  • A stallion rating of 2 is considered good – and Danger Money comes close, with good jockey/trainer ratings as well. I’d almost be tempted to take him at that price.
  • Ciel d’Afrique has a better stallion rating but isn’t as well supported in terms of jockey & trainer.

So, knowing what we know…

Maidens are more often won by horses that have already run than by horses that have not won. Unraced 3yos only have a 6.5% chance of winning compared to 10.6% for those that have raced once.

It rises to 15% for those that have raced three times, which might bode well for Paradiso.

But given the scope for improvement after one race, the stars do appear to have lined up for Numen, who has a 60+ rating, takes the top jockey rating and comes from Aiden O’Brien’s yard, so is the number one choice for the number one yard. With a speed rating not far off the fastest horse in the race, he appears overpriced at 5/1.

Fraterculus also appears vastly overpriced, having raced once with a similar rating and a better speed rating, and while he doesn’t have the jockey and trainer ratings to match those of Numen, he could also improve on his second outing.

The favourite Lough Cutra does appear to be racing well with some excellent ratings and he’s heading for that vital 3rd race – but it’s slightly worrying that he hasn’t won yet and his speed rating is so low in comparison to others. However, with strong form ratings like that, you can’t rule him out.

So – if you want some value you would back Numen or Fraterculus, and if you wanted to back the favourite Lough Cutra, then you wouldn’t be completely out of your mind.

As it turns out, that was the top three, and the stallion pick Ciel d’Afrique came back in fourth with Paradiso 5th.

So, remember

  • The clues are all there: trainers picking certain jockeys, horses with poor speed ratings, etc.
  • Backing unraced horses vs already raced horses is a risk
  • Stallion ratings are useful – if backed up by jockey & trainer ratings
  • Horses that don’t win often keep up the not winning
  • Jockey & Trainer ratings can really help when you don’t know much about a horse – speed, too
  • You’re looking for the next rating – place less importance on the LR rating and imagine what the improvement might be