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Incorporating SPI and DPI into handicapping maiden races


SEPTEMBER 22, 2007

Incorporating SPI and DPI into handicapping maiden races

by Tim Holland

One of the most difficult tasks that faces a handicapper is sorting out a field full of lightly raced two-year-olds. With sparse form lines, players are forced to concentrate on pedigrees, trainer angles and workouts.

Possibly the quickest and easiest way to mathematically assess a runner's pedigree is by glancing at the SPI (Sire Production Index) of the horse's sire and dam's sire, and the DPI (Dam Production Index) of the subject's dam found in the BRIS Past Performances. These figures indicate the average racing class of the stallion/mare's foals by averaging the SSI (Standard Starts Index which is a numerical index based on average earnings per start of a runner) of all of his/her runners. The SSI is a useful figure which allows a comparison of racing performances of horses in North America, regardless of their year of birth or sex, since it takes into account inflation and the lower-earning potential of fillies.

To illustrate the usefulness of these figures for a nine-day period (September 12-20), all two-year-old maidens making their first or second start over dirt or artificial surfaces were selected whose sire and dam's sire's SPIs and dam's DPIs met, or exceeded, the national average of 1.00. For first season sires that have not been represented by enough runners to produce a SPI, this figure was substituted by the percentage of first-time out winners representing the subject stallion, with a minimum of 10 percent used to "qualify." The second parameter was that the runner must be by a sire whose first-time starter stats met, or exceeded 10 percent which, even with second-time starters, ensures that the respective sire is passing on an acceptable level of precocity. The final requirement was that the runner's trainer must own a win rate of at least 10 percent with first, or second-time starters, whichever figure was applicable to the individual runner.

This test produced a total of 59 runners. Of these, a respectable 15 (25 percent) were winners and a flat bet on each produced a very slight loss. Most of these winners were well-fancied by their connections which brings up the additional importance of paying attention to the tote board when dealing with lightly raced individuals. Indeed, 12 of these runners started at 10-1 or higher, and none returned winners. Additionally, very short-priced horses are of little use to handicappers and in this series five juveniles were bet down to odds-on. Surprisingly, although four of these finished in the money, none were winners and by removing these two groups, the sample now contained 15 wins from 42 starts (36 percent win rate), which in theory would have produced a healthy profit.

Taking the figures a step further during this same time period studied, and it must be stressed that small samples must be used with care, there were six first or second-time starters seen who fit the above parameters but additionally whose sire, dam's sire and dam ranked at more than 2.00, or twice the national average.

Three of these six were winners, including Referee, a first-time starter on September 14 over the Polytrack at Turfway Park. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Referee is by Distorted Humor (SPI 3.09) and out of Officiate (by Deputy Minister [SPI 3.89]), who owns a DPI of 8.62 due to her first foal, Mo Cuishle (Saint Ballado), winning three of her eight starts, including the Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (G3). Distorted Humor's offspring have been winning at a rate of 16 percent in their debut and Pletcher owns a 19 percent win rate with his first timers. Further investigation of the past performances revealed that the debutant cost $1.2 million as a yearling, the highest price for any of his sire's offspring that year, and Referee owned a superior worktab, including two bullets at Churchill Downs.

The only negative to Referee was his short price. However, it can be argued that with so many positives, and after assessing the relative weakness of the field he was facing, that the colt was still a decent bet at 1.40-1; a view which was reinforced when he won easily by nearly eight lengths.

Better value was found via Devereux, a second-time starter from the barn of Steve Asmussen. After the colt made a promising debut at Saratoga, Asmussen, who scores with 24 percent of his second-time runners, entered the son of Forestry (whose ability to pass on precocity is backed up by his 12 percent first time win rate) in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Belmont. With his sire's and dam sire's SPIs of 2.35 and 6.28, respectively, and his dam's DPI of 2.27, Devereux owned the pedigree and trainer stats to be considered a solid play, which he backed up with a three-length win and $8.80 mutuel.

The third winner with high pedigree figures was the Nick Zito representative Overandabeauty (by Grand Slam [14 percent first-time out]), who scored at second asking at Belmont last Sunday at odds of 2.65-1. A decent second in her debut, Overandabeauty's pedigree figures include her dam's impressive DPI of 32.09, earned by being the mother of Tapit, who won the 2004 Wood Memorial S.(G1). Zito excels with second time starters, reflected in his win rate of 25 percent from a large sample, and Overandabeauty looked in good shape after posting a bullet work a week earlier.

With an abundance of two-year-old races scheduled this Saturday, there are two runners whose pedigree stats compare favorably to the three winners mentioned above. The first is PARQUET, who will run in the 1ST race at Delaware Park. Like Devereux, Parquet is a son of Forestry and he is out of Double Sunrise (Slew O'Gold (SPI 2.76) whose DPI of 10.09 is mostly due to being the dam of 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner and champion sprinter Kona Gold. A $510,000 yearling purchase, Parquet will be making her second start, at which her trainer Alan Goldberg shows a 14 percent strike-rate.

The second well-bred juvenile to watch for on Saturday is VINSTAR in the 3RD at Presque Isle Downs. By Vindication, who, being a freshman sire, has not had enough runners to qualify for a SPI but owns a 23 per cent record with his first-time starters, Vinstar will be debuting for Steve Asmussen who is 20 percent in this situation. Vinstar's dam, Fashion Star (Chief's Crown 2.74 SPI), is responsible for Eddington who won the 2005 Pimlico Special H. (G1), which explains her DPI of 7.14.

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