When will it be ready to run?

During coverage of Kempton on Wednesday, one of the pundits stated that a three year filly “must have met a bump in the road”. This was because she was “only” making her debut in early January. Comments such as this are quite common in racing coverage, particularly when three year olds haven’t raced at two. Which got us thinking, is this commonly made statement really the case?

Common sense horsemanship teaches us that plenty of horses need time to mature and develop. Part of the skill of training is understanding when a horse is ready to race and most importantly win. Here we analyse the current data and scientific research to see whether it was likely this filly had a “met a bump in the road”?

So what does the data say about when a horse is likely to run?

A three year old born in January is still quite a bit older than one born in May. This is particularly true at the start of the year. 36 months is a fair bit more than 31. Most race horses are born between January and May. The spread for the 2020 foal crop according to Weatherby’s is shown in the table below. Nearly all the June foals are likely to be National Hunt bred foals.

Month of BirthPercentageNumber
January4.6%585
February17.8%2268
March26.0%3320
April31.2%3982
May 17.6%2240
June2.8%358

Recently John Boyce in Owner Breeder Magazine reported on a study that looked at over 150,000 flat horses. He showed that, the earlier a foal is born, the more likely it is to race at two. The only exception was January born foals. It’s worth noting that this study showed that even amongst February born foals only 46% hit the track at two. This figure dropped to 39% for March born foals. The likelihood of two year olds winning was even more marked. 15.8% of February born foals won a race at two, dropping to just 3.4% for May born foals.

This is backed by a recent study published by Arango-Sabogal et al. in the British Veterinary Journal. The authors showed that for every seven days after January the first the predicted earnings of a horse at 2 dropped by about 3%. This would seem to indicate early born horses reach the track sooner. Like Boyce in owner breeder they showed that this advantage although smaller continued at 3.

Different Rates of Development

Just like children every horse matures and develops at a slightly different pace, that slows as they get older. It’s often missed in racing coverage that a horse doesn’t totally mature physically until they are 5. There’s quite a neat piece of research that was carried out in Japan. Toshiyuki Takahashi established racehorses average race speeds keep increasing until they reach four and half years of age. After this they remain constant.

There are numerous reasons for these differing rates of development. One of the big contributors can be found in their DNA. All thoroughbreds have one of three sets of genetics that influence their likely optimum distance. These genetics have some impact on their rate of physical development and therefore the time they’re likely to first make the races.

One of the scientific tools that we use alongside more traditional horsemanship to understand each individual horse is genetic testing. The Plusvital Speed Gene Test results show that 35% of the population have the most precocious genetic make up. 13% are the late maturers and 52% fall in the middle group of genetics, let’s call them the normal maturers.

Plus Vital have established amongst their samples the point in each groups career when 50% have hit the track. The most precocious genetic type hit the track “on average” 30 months after their birth date. The next group 31 months and the final group 35 months after their birth date. This data is helpful in establishing a rough guide early in a horses career, as to when they will make the track. There are of course other very useful scientific indicators we can use to analyse each individual further. We’ll discuss these in upcoming posts.

Why does it matter

The truth is that there’s a good chance the filly being discussed on Wednesday was ahead of the curve in terms of development. The filly was born in April, so even if she had precocious genetics, we’d have only have expected the filly to debut around September. However, she was running over 11 furlongs, suggesting she was much more likely to be a future stayer. Furthermore both her dam and sire ran over a mile and half. This makes it almost certain she was in one of the later maturing categories. So there’s a pretty good chance she was ahead of the predicted 35 months to make the track.

This is all useful information to anyone who might want to back this filly in future. Physically and mentally she is likely to continue to improve. She made a promising enough debut effort. She was supported in the betting market, there’s a fair chance she’s shown ability at home in shorter gallops. It would be reasonable to surmise she got tired due to immaturity and a touch of weakness.

We use science and data to get more winners and improve our results. From informing our selection of horses at the sales to mapping out the best way to develop each horse. It adds an extra edge to our horsemanship. We can match the science to what we and our team are seeing and feeling daily in the stables and out on the gallops.

We currently have 5% shares available in a precociously bred colt. He was born on February the 1st. To give yourself the best chance of winning with a two year old this season, get in touch now as there are just a couple left. Email info@kublerracing.com