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The Ultimate Equipment Change

The first time I really noticed the First Time Gelding angle was purely by chance.  I played a Carryovered Pick 5 at Fresno on October 9, 2011.  I had singled the #8 horse, Pico Pete, in the second leg (the 7th race) however I had meant to single the 6 but I couldn’t read my own handwriting.  Pico Pete won and paid $22.80. As Pico Pete was storming down the lane to an easy victory, I remember hearing the announcer mention something about him being a First Time Gelding.  I was lucky enough to also have the winners of the other 4 legs and in one of those events I had the favorite and a horse that was a gate scratch, so I got it twice. I collected $1,692.10 for my $32 wagered.  That kind of score makes you pay attention.

I have heard First Time Gelding (FTG) being referenced as the Ultimate Equipment Change, and I can sympathize with that viewpoint.  I am sure I would concentrate more on work if I were gelded (I’m not volunteering).   I had also heard other folks opine that this angle is a profitable one, so I thought I should probably pay a bit closer attention to it and see if I could validate the truthfulness to these opinions.

So I searched the web and was only able to find opinions and casual observations.  I can’t quite get behind an angle that people believe to be true without some underlying data points that corroborate the truthfulness.  Some guy saying he has made a ton of money playing that angle since he was a kid doesn’t scream out “validated profitability.”

In 2013 there was no published data on first time reported geldings.  The only way you knew about them was if you looked at the “overnights” that are published in the horsemen’s section on Equibase.  You could manually go into each overnight and see if they had that information published.  I did so from February of 2013 forward.  I found, at that time, that very few tracks actually published this information.  The ones that did were in California, Kentucky, the NYRA tracks and Gulfstream Park.  But from February 2013 through October 2014 I looked at the overnights on a daily basis and logged any first time reported geldings.

Note the “reported” in that descriptor.  That is very important to understand, this is not claiming that it is the first time a horse ran as a gelding but the first time it was reported that he is a gelding.  In the jurisdictions called out above, they seem to take it a little more seriously than the rest of the tracks, I have heard of trainers fined and horses scratched if a gelding is led over to the paddock that is listed as a stallion on the program at these locations.

The reason I stopped tracking that manually in 2014 was that Equibase started posting them in their Scratches and Changes section on a daily basis.  That allowed me to pull the gelding information directly from that feed.  No more manually combing overnights, I was able to semi-automate my data collection.

I needed a way to come up with an ability rating so I could see if the gelding actually improved a horse so I utilized my own personally developed handicapping spreadsheet, which I call my Specs.  I thought that gelding a slow horse will more than likely result in just a slow horse that can’t pass along the slowness to his offspring, but gelding one that was competitive previously might step them up enough to provide better than expected results and produce a positive Return on Investment (ROI).  I have an algorithm that will rank every experienced horse in a race.  I have tested the best weighting of many variables to come up with the ideal weightings.  So when you see “rank” listed in the table or discussed it is this ranking that is being referenced.  The top ranked horse will be rank #1, etc.

One other caveat to disclose, I only ran my Specs on cards that I was entertaining playing, but I tracked all First Time Geldings for 2013, there were 97 FTG’s of the 332 being tracked that I did not run the cards through my handicapping spreadsheet for their first start as a gelding.  You’ll see in the first table in the results section below an *NA, these 97 horses are what is being reported there.  The rankings

I am presenting the 2013 data separately because I think that the data for these horses is more correct than the population that has been logged since Equibase started publishing the first time reported geldings.  What I mean by that is that the tracks that were publishing the FTG on their overnights are the ones I think we can rely on taking this information seriously so I am focusing on that years data and those horses to formulate my opinion as to whether gelding a horse is truly something to use in your wagering decisions.  The data since then is “contaminated”.

 

The Results:

The table below compares the First Time Gelding data with that of the “total database” for 2013:

First Time Gelding results (2013 races)

I am surprised that these horses performed as well as they did just by requiring them to be ranked reasonably well to begin with.

Conclusion:  If you have a reasonable and consistent method to handicap the previously demonstrated abilities of all horses and find a First Time Gelding in your top 3 contenders, it can be very profitable to play these horses.  But if they are slow to begin with, it is not profitable to expect being gelded to be the magic potion to make a slow horse fast.  Sure, just like any other wild angle, you will occasionally get some high paying returns for horses who have not demonstrated much ability in the past, but those are few and far between and you’ll likely go broke trying to find them.

 

Does it matter how long it has been since the horse made his start prior to being gelded?

First Time Gelding time since last race bands (2013 races)

Conclusion:  For the most part you can see that the more time they are given to recover, the better they perform. It seems logical that the more time off the better.  How much of this is due to them “fixing” other problems such as removing chips in their knees or ankles and not solely because of being gelded?  There is really no way to answer that question.

If you’re like me, you then say to yourself, “hmm, I wonder if I cut the data to include the FTG who are in the top 3 of my Specs selections and look at their time since last race, will I find a more profitable angle?”  The table below shows how that data would play out:

Top 3 ranked FTG, grouped by time-off band (2013 races)

 

Conclusion:  It would appear that if you can find a “top 3” FTG that has been away for 40 days or more, that is a solid and profitable angle.  It would have provided 15 winners in 53 races in 2013, for a 28.3% strike rate but an amazing 60.0% return on investment.   If you had bet $100 to win on each of these horses, you would have bet $5,300 and cashed for $8,480 or a $3,180 profit.

 

The Equibase Data and the Contamination Factor:

What I mean by contamination of the data is that many race tracks just don’t really care or put forth the effort to get the gelding information correct.  Prior to it being published by Equibase you likely could find some data integrity issues with horses shipping into a reputable location.  For instance you might have a horse that had been racing at Parx and gelded 3 or 4 starts ago, but is now shipping to Aqueduct and the trainer, understanding the fine that he might receive if not reported correctly, finally finds the time to report the gelding.  Sometimes it’s just inconvenient and having the papers in his hands to send to Aqueduct might remind him to submit the gelding information so you could have a few horses that I have captured in 2013 as first time geldings that were not.  Since the Equibase reporting, and I am not chastising Equibase, the likelihood that the reporting is even more haphazard is exponentially greater.  You can see that by looking at this data:

From October 2014 through late 2016 I was using the data that was provided from Equibase at face value, you can see the large uptick in the percent of FTG who were running back quickly. In late 2016 I introduced some logic in my spreadsheet that would estimate their gelding date.  It looked for the horses last break of more than 40 days or the last time they raced at a reputable track and would use their next start as the most likely start in which they first raced as a gelding.  It is not a minor procedure and most trainers would not race one back quicker than 40 days from the operation.  You can see the percentages “snapped” back to near the 2013 mix in 2017 and 2018.  You can see that some logic still needs to be put in place to sift out the data integrity issues that are still present with this reporting.

Saturday’s First Time Gelding’s to watch:

I looked at a few of Saturday’s cards and the First Time Gelding’s that my spreadsheet has captured are:

  • Aqueduct: 7th Race, #7 Heavy Meddle is the Specs last ranked horse and they are wheeling him back on just 34 days between races.  This would be a case where it’s unlikely that gelding a slow horse will make them suddenly fast.
  • Fair Grounds: 3rd Race, #5 Vicksburg is the Specs fourth ranked horse.  If the 1, 3 or 6 scratch he would move up to be a “qualifier”.  4th Race, #6 Grandgran is also the fourth ranked Specs horse, if the 2, 3 or 4 scratch he would move up to be a “qualifier”.  9th Race, #12 is the second ranked horse coming off more than 40 days since his last race making him a “qualifier”.  Also in the 9th Race, #7 Take That For Data is the sixth ranked horse making it unlikely enough horses would declare to move him up enough to get him into “qualifier” status.
  • Gulfstream: 1st Race, #6 Cyrus is fourth ranked in my Specs.  If the 3, 7 or 8 scratch he would move up to be a “qualifier”.  4th Race, #2 Dunk is also fourth ranked, if the 1, 4 or 5 scratch he will be a “qualifier”.
  • Los Alamitos: 9th Race, #3 is the third ranked horse and coming off a 617 day layoff which would technically make him a “qualifier” but that 617 days is about 250 too many for my liking in any situation.  Also in the 9th Race, #1 Warrior’s Lullaby is the fifth ranked horse coming off a 387 day layoff.  It seems unlikely that 2 higher ranked horses would scratch so he will almost certainly remain a “non-qualifier”.

 

About Craig Spencer

Craig grew up in a horse racing family. His dad was a jockey and is now a trainer in New Mexico. Craig was a jockey for 12 years, has a bachelors degree in Accounting and an Masters in Business Administration.

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