2 year old race horses have longer careers? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 12:51 AM Thread Starter
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2 year old race horses have longer careers?

Did anyone hear about the study of Australian racehorses that found that a horse's risk of retirement was actually lower if they began racing at age 2, had more starts at age 2, and raced longer distances? It seems to suggest that there are no detrimental effects of racing 2 year olds.

Apparently this was presented at the 2012 AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) convention.

Because this is always such a hot-topic on this forum, not only in terms of race horses, but just riding ANY two year old in general, I thought I would post some links.

Now I am not saying I am supporting racing 2 year olds necessarily, only that the findings of the studies are interesting and opposite of what most people would expect, so I think they are a good topic of conversation. (Although it does makes sense that exercise can lead to greater bone density and overall strength.)

Here are some links:

On this one scroll down to "race horse topics"

The Horse | Top Equine Surgery Studies of 2012 (AAEP 2012) | TheHorse.com

This is listed as the citation of the above study:
The association of age at first start with care... [Equine Vet J. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI

A different study:

The Horse | Early Exercise and Career Length in Thoroughbred Racehorses | TheHorse.com
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post #2 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 08:36 AM
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I agree completely! As a matter of fact, a few days ago I wrote the exact same thing from personal experience and 50 years of observations. I think all of the screaming we hear is just what people 'think' should be so. It is just another example of people anthropomorphizing horses instead of dealing with proven facts.
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post #3 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 09:47 AM
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It looks to be just as flawed as the last "major" study they did on this. It uses past statistical data with no consideration for some major points - such as the fact that most race horses that have a later career start do so due to the fact they had soundness issues during training that delayed them from starting as two year olds on the track. It really does not factor in soundness during training and start of training date. It only focuses on the start date. Its skewed data.

Now I will sit up and take notice when they take several groups of young TBs that are raised similarly, similar bloodlines and conformation and divide them up into at least 2, if not 3 groups. Group 1 - training and starting for 2 year old racing i.e. "Traditional method". Group 2 - training and starting for 3 year old racing - with the actual race training date started a year later but otherwise similar training methods between the two groups. And then maybe a group 3 control - not raced. These horses would be chosen as weanlings/yearlings before any training started and young enough that nutrtion/environment/care and such can be kept the same between them.

Then you will have results that will actually mean something.
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post #4 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 09:48 AM
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I also think that you need to be careful about confusing correlation and causation when looking at a study like this.

The critical detail is WHY horses debuted later than the traditional 2 year old year. IME, race horses that don't debut at 2 are usually "held back" because of maturity issues or soundness issues.

Does the study address horses that wash out of race training, that never get their gate card or start? Lots of horses start race training and never make it to their first race because of soundness problems, unsuitablity for the job or what we used to call "a serious case of the slows."

If a two year old completes race training and has a few starts in the second half of the year, he's essentially a sound and suitable individual, so yes, I think that his odds for continuing sound are very good.

I think a more clear and compelling statistic is the percentage of TBs bred that actually make it to their first start. The percentage of registered foals that start is about 30%, according to the Jockey Club, but the percentage of ALL foals is much lower - many breeders don't bother registering a foal that isn't going to make it to the track.
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post #5 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 10:36 AM
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I agreed its not terrible accurate. There are many variables not taken into account.

a few I personally know the history of, all with similar bloodlines. Of those

started at 2;
-1 mare, came up sore.
-1 mare vets couldnt pin point the reason, but she stopped performing well, likely pain related. Pulled off the track at 4 when she came up actually sore. trail ridden since, came up lame as a 6 year old, requiring 6 months off. on and off back soreness issues. Both parents sound, dam an winning endurance horse.
-1 mare, mentally too immature, brought back after a short time, never returned.
-1 mare did decent as a two year old and wouldnt run after that.
-1 mare, broke left front cannon after a couple races as a two year old.
-1 gelding, slab fractures in his right knee by 3,
-1 stallion, raced lightly at 2, very successful as a three year old, carreer ending sessamoid fracture at the end of that season.

started at 3;
-gelding, raced successfully as a three year old and four year old, awesome mind, headed back as a 5 year old this summer.

Its very possible that I've just had very unusuall personal experiences and in reality they all are better off being started younger, but somehow I dont think so.
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post #6 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 10:45 AM
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Actually, the 4683 horses followed in this study WERE followed in three groups:

1) those placed in training
2) those that were actually trained and assessed
3) and those that actually raced

....the Thoroughbred foal crop born in 2001-02 and three training milestones were observed: registration with a trainer, training to assess race potential, and racing. The association of the training milestones with career length was measured by assessing the number of race starts and the number of years raced.

Horses registered with a trainer, trained, or raced as 2-year-olds were more likely to have won or been placed in a race than those that achieved these milestones as 3-year-olds or older. - See more at: The Horse | Early Exercise and Career Length in Thoroughbred Racehorses | TheHorse.com
Only one of the articles recognize that not all trainers are created equal. My years on the track and my years starting race colts and placing them with track trainers taught me that some trainers push way beyond what is appropriate and others build a horse up more slowly so it is properly 'legged up'.
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Last edited by Cherie; 03-01-2013 at 08:38 PM.
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post #7 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 07:50 PM
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I did a study YEARS (like 40+) ago on racing in america from the 1800s to the 1960s. Early on the horses were not started until four. When they ran they often ran in heats, and did 'classic distances' and then had to HACK to the next venue. They often ran until mid to late teens.

The advent of sprint races is relatively new (in the last 75 years), and the starting of horses has become earlier and earlier because of the costs of training/raising. Also, at one point the early meetings (january) in california did xrays which classed the closing of knee joints as abc...As could race, Bs were on the cusp and Cs were sent home. Since horses dont finish growing until almost 6 this is a great idea.

What makes for a sound horse? Long slow development...and most horse keepers are NOT willing to wait.
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post #8 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by equitate View Post

What makes for a sound horse? Long slow development...and most horse keepers are NOT willing to wait.

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post #9 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 10:19 PM
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While I do wish they would wait to start the training, I can see the money issue. I found an old post about one of my OTTB's races. He won $4,000 for 3rd place at Saratoga. The owner remarked how his winnings will cover an entire month of training expenses. $4,000 a month??? I never realized the racing industry was that expensive.

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post #10 of 11 Old 03-01-2013, 11:41 PM
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So then were is the data on the number of catastrophic breakdowns young horses experience compared to other disciplines? Horses were designed to run, not jump, and yet the vast majority of top level show jumpers and eventers campaign for over a decade without catastrophic injury. A horse repeatedly landed the entirety of its weight and it's riders weight on it's front legs from 4 and 5 feet in the air must outdo the amount of pressure exerted on a front leg by a horse doing what it does naturally - running. And even if it doesn't, galloping is a huge componant of eventing. Perhaps not at speeds we see on a racetrack but it boggles the mind that a horse properly started at 3 or 4 years old and brought into a COMPLETELY unnatural discipline to it can compete easily for 10-15 years and we rarely hear of breakdown that isn't directly associated with a misstep or a crash - and even those are rarely fatal.

If racing at 2 years old is so "okay", why are they snapping legs left right and centre? Why is it so often the young ones that break down? Why is it so common for disciplines like reiners, where they also start young, to have blown their hocks by 10? I know a lot of it boils down to training, but it just doesn't seem to compare to disciplines where they start them later and have competitive animals for 10-20 years, and retire so often sound.
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