Flemington plays host to the first Australian two-year-old race of the season this Wednesday, a new addition to the racing calendar which will see a field of juvenile gallopers dash up the Flemington straight over 900 metres.
It’s an exciting time of the year to see two-year-old’s who have graduated from their educational phase and step out onto a racetrack for the first time but also a reminder that it takes a certain kind of thoroughbred to make it to the races early in the juvenile season.
With no exposed form to go on, assessing these babies comes down to a few key factors: trial performances, breeding, physical type and attitude.
What you want to see from a two-year-old in their educational phase is professionalism in the way they go about their work.
From a trial perspective they need to load into the barriers well, come away from the gates cleanly and show early speed. Barrier manners and early speed are essential over 900 metres where the race can quickly become unwinnable with a poor getaway.
A professional galloper will have a good head carriage while a green (inexperienced) thoroughbred can get their head up and climb in their action instead of lowering their head and lengthening their stride.
Breeding can play its part if you want to investigate the pedigree of each runner, certain sires and dams are known for producing early running racehorses.
Where my expertise most come into play is on type and attitude, with attitude being the most crucial factor.
There is a difference between a race preparation and an educational one. Most two-year-old’s are in and out of the stable learning the ropes once they are broken in, a process which generally doesn’t put a lot of pressure on young horses but instead teaches them about the routine of stable life.
Further into their preparation more pressure is applied, this generally determines which two-year-old cope both mentally and physically and which ones require more time.
A general rule would be to say that the gallopers heading into Wednesday’s race have handled the pressure of galloping and trialing.
Those that are mentally mature take the build-up to a race in their stride and they-re the horses I look for in the mounting yard.
Race day is a new experience for a young racehorse. Travelling and arriving on course, standing in the tie-ups and parading for an extended period on raceday will be novel experiences. Some two-year-old’s are very relaxed on race day and cope with the change of routine, others are immediately aware something different is happening.
Ideally you want to see an unperturbed two-year-old, one who walks out well and handles themselves with ease, without getting up on their toes and sweating up.
Bearing in mind not to be too tough of a judge as these are young horses with young minds, and you can be forgiving of some curiosity, caution or fidgety behaviour as long as they don’t have a complete melt down.
Type is also important an important factor, although I think at this early stage professionalism is far more crucial as those doing thing right will generally have the upper hand.
Physically a youngster needs to also handle the added demands of a race preparation and a strong boned, mature type of galloper can help with this.
To me an ideal two-year-old type is one that is balanced, which means they have grown in unison and are not higher in the wither or back-end.
A typical sprinter or short-course galloper tends to carry a little more muscle mass and they are considered bulky. I think a key attribute to a good sprinter is a strong, powerful hindquarter, which I regularly reference in broadcast. They tend to be shorter across the back and through the neck.
Overall my analysis will be concentrating heavily on the behavior of each individual runner and how they are handling the occasion – if they happen to have a strong, balanced, mature physique that will just be a bonus.