2-Year-Old Horses on the Flat: Why Form Isn’t Always the Best Guide

For most punters, backing 2-year-old horses is the fastest way to become broke! With no form to speak of, you have to rely on things such as breeding and pedigree to make your judgments.

When it comes to 2yo novice races for instance, you’re entering into the unknown. If you had backed all favourites in 2yo races since the beginning of 2014 for example, your loss would be over 4% even though 39% of them win, a higher percentage than favourites in all races.


Top-Rated Betting Sites for Strategic Punters

Rank
Betting Site
Bonus
Rating
Visit
3
$20 Free Plus Up to $75 Deposit Bonus18/21+ to Bet, T&Cs Apply


Why do so many 2yo favourites win? (relatively speaking)

  • Short races with few undulations. (Beware favourites at Brighton because it is a tricky course for inexperienced horses.)
  • Fewer bends so the fastest horses usually win.
  • A lower difference in ratings in handicaps.

Some trainers are better with 2yos than others from a punter’s POV. Here are three with decent records since the beginning of 2014:

TrainerBetsWinsStrike RateROI (Betfair)
Aidan O’Brien92020922.72%4.18%
John Gosden 46110222.13%18.65%
Saeed Bin Suroor2295624.45%3.1%

Gosden aside, the profit is hardly enormous but with these three trainers, at least you know you’re getting a high enough strike rate to prevent long losing runs; a common feature with any betting system involving 2yos.

The Trouble With 2-Year-Olds

Like humans, horses mature at very different rates. As a result, there will be 2yos way ahead of others in their development which gives them a major advantage as juveniles. However, they may lose this edge as 3yos. In the meantime, they will pick up a few wins at 2yos and look impressive in doing so.

Then there is the small matter of not knowing a horse’s true potential, even after a few runs. Trainers routinely fool the handicapper in UK races by running horses over unsuitable trips. UK racing rules state that a horse must have three races to gain a handicap mark.

Sir Mark Prescott is notorious for running 2yos over the “wrong” trip three times in succession to gain an artificially low mark. Then as 3yos, they are stepped up in trip and perform far better. For backers of 2yos, this kind of behaviour is irritating and costs you a lot of money if you don’t know what to look for when betting on UK races.

Other “tricks” include:

  • Running the 2yo over unsuitable ground.
  • Giving the horse three fast runs while unfit.
  • Ordering the jockey to underperform; this is cheating and is severely punished by the BHA.
  • Ensuring the horse starts off far too quickly and fades in the home stretch.
  • Missing the break and ensuring the horse is poorly positioned to challenge.

Keen punters know all about the above and keep an eye on the market for signs that today’s the day the gamble will take place. Remember, the horse’s connections know what they are trying to achieve, so if you see an erstwhile unfancied horse suddenly plummet in price, check out their past form to see if it ticks the boxes above.

If you had found a way to make money from 2yo Maidens in the past, the BHA decision to convert 90% of Maidens to Novice events from the beginning of the 2016 season would have hurt.

The change means that inexperienced horses, or first-time runners, will be up against horses with winning form. The reason for the decision was to upgrade the limited number of Novice events which typically featured an average of five horses. The average starting price of the favourite was 10/11 in these races!

Things to Look For in 2-Year-Olds

  • Trainer History: You can see that O’Brien, Gosden and Bin Suroor have previous when it comes to 2yos. Certain trainers know how to get the best out of a juvenile so check trainer records to see if they specialize in 2yos.
  • Follow the Market: This is normally an indicator of nothing barring the odd big gamble now and then. However, when dealing with horses that have never run before, the market is often your best guide.
  • Breeding: There are perhaps 30 stallions in the whole of Europe that breed winners. Legends such as Galileo, Montjeu, and Dubawi are known for producing talented horses.
  • First Race Place: Pay attention to 2yos that ran well enough to get a place in their first outing. Such horses are likely to be fit and there is an excellent chance they will improve in their second run.

Final Thoughts on 2yo Horses on the Flat

If you’re still confused as to what a likely 2yo winner looks like, you can always check out the Juvenile Judge section of the Racing Post which is free to view online. This season, the publication has picked out numerous 2yos to watch. Here is a list of some along with their performances to date:

  • Tizwotitiz: Seventh on debut in a Class 4 race followed by a second place in a Class 5.
  • Deep Intrigue: Third in a Class 2 on debut. Was 1/2 favourite in a Class 5 race but finished second. Finally broke his duck as 4/7 favourite in another Class 5 at Beverley.
  • Disruptor: Fifth in a Class 4 race at Kempton.
  • Sesame: Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth in a disappointing start.
  • Arcadian Rocks: Third, Fourth, and Ninth.

Remember, there is sometimes “mitigation” for a 2yo performing poorly so don’t always take early runs at face value.