Freshness is all the rage these days. Restaurants tell us to eat fresh and we are solaced by thought that although we're eating fattening food prepared by a 15 year old in less than 10 minutes at least it's fresh so it must be little bit good for you, right?
Freshness is the trend in racing as well. For decades trainers have been giving horses more and more time between races. At one time horses would run every weekend with the occasional mid-week tuneup. Then the standard spacing became two weeks, then three and now many trainers consider anything shorter than a full month between races to "coming back a little quick" for high end horses.
Another trend that is developing is not only the month between races but the use of layoffs to prevent a horse from going sour when deep in a form cycle. An astonishing number of stakes level horses only get 1-4 races between layoffs. They're never allowed to have a long form cycle.
The interesting thing for handicappers and the negative thing for fans is that it seems as if horses who are no more than two races into a form cycle in a given race are outperforming those who have already had at least three races since their last layoff.
Consider the six graded stakes races for three year olds or older since the Breeders' Cup. There were 60 horses entered in the 6 races and 34 of them were either coming straight off a layoff or had no more than two races since their last layoff. These 34 horses combined for 5 wins in the 6 races. The 26 horses who were further into their form cycles won just one race despite the fact that four favorites were among them.
The sample size is small but watch for this as an emerging trend. Even among the ten Breeders' Cup races for older horses seven of them were won by "fresh" horses.
I eliminated the two year old races from consideration because trainers are less concerned with keeping their juveniles fresh. Instead they're trying to get them to ripen!
Something to keep in mind while handicapping Graded stakes. Be a touch wary of any horse who has run more than twice since their last layoff.