Why 2YO Racing Has a Place

Why 2YO Racing Has a Place

The ‘Breednet’ website is one of my favourite hobbies and an enduring addiction. It provides comprehensive categories of up-to-the-minute statistical information on thoroughbred racing and breeding. Tara Madgwick often raises topical issues of pivotal interest. Racing of 2yos is an example of a long standing (‘controversial’) topic. The debate will go on. I’ve taken the liberty of augmenting the portfolio with some veterinary dialogue as quoted.

Featured Image: Skeletal Development in Horses (acknowledge the author identified in the image)

Tara Madgwick – Tuesday December 20

See: https://www.breednet.com.au/news/20155/why-2yo-racing-has-a-place-

A conversation with somebody not involved in racing this morning got me thinking about the justification for racing two-year-old thoroughbreds and why many in the outside world see this as some sort of cruelty and yet for those involved in the industry it’s one of the most interesting facets of our sport.

With the Magic Millions 2YO Classic on next month, the focus is very much on two-year-old racing and while there are hundreds of babies in work at stables right around the country, only a small percentage of the foal crop will race as juveniles and fewer will succeed and win as juveniles.

For most of them, their juvenile season is about education and building the muscle, bone and mental skills required for successful competition later in life.

Thoroughbreds have been purpose bred for speed for over 200 years with the first Epsom Derby run in 1780. Over generations they have been selectively bred to mature faster and run faster than any other horse and like human athletes that succeed at the highest level of sport, they begin training for their destiny early in life.

We encourage our children to play sport and be active and if they show a particular talent in a particular field and have parents up for the challenge, those kids are pushed along, and most Olympians were well and truly on their way by their early teenage years if not before.

Swimmers, runners, tennis players, gymnasts, football players, cricket players… if they get to the very top of their sport, invariably they’ve spent a lifetime doing it.

Horse to Human Age Comparison Chart
Horse Age Stage of Life Human Age Stage of Life
1 Foal, Weanling, Yearling 6.5 Infancy, Babyhood, Toddler, Preschooler
2 Two-Year-Old 13 Adolescence / Puberty
3 Three-Year-Old 18 Teenager
4 Four-Year-Old 20.5 Young Adult
5 Physical Maturity 24.5 Adulthood
7   28  
10   35.5  
13 Middle Aged 43.5 Middle Aged
17   53  
20 Senior 60 Senior

A look at the chart above comparing horse years to human years, shows that our two-year-old horses are about the equivalent of 13-year-old people and like the people, our two-year-old horses compete largely against their peers at this age.

As three-year-olds, equivalent of human 18-year-olds, they can sometimes match strides with the older horses, but usually receive a weight advantage to offset the physical disadvantage and by age four they begin to at attain full maturity, a process that goes on for several years.

The great champion Winx is a glowing example of a well-managed horse that raced twice as a late season juvenile for two wins and trained on to win 37 of 43 starts, bowing out on a high at age seven with over $26million in prizemoney.

Thoroughbreds are bred with the aim of being elite athletes, not intellectual sit at home and pontificate types, and an important part of that process for the vast majority is education and training at two.

Not all of them are physically or mentally suited to athletic pursuits, as not all humas are suited to becoming professional athletes, but the early education with a good trainer is where we find out more about them and realistic decisions can be made to benefit the horse and it’s owners.

Statistically by the end of December only around 5% of the yearlings offered for sale have made it to the races and by the end of February when the Golden Slipper field is decided we’ve seen about 10%.

By the end of the season come late July we’ve usually seen about 25% of the yearlings offered for sale, so around three-quarters of the commercial foal crop don’t race at two, for them it’s all about education and process.

AVA Policy

See: Racing two year old thoroughbreds (ava.com.au)

See also: Racing start for two-year-old thoroughbreds not detrimental – The University of Sydney

Racing two-year-old thoroughbreds

Ratification Date: 20 Jan 2012


Two-year-old horses that are obviously immature in age and development, or have significant faults in conformation, should not be raced.


Two-year-old racing is an integral part of the Australian and overseas thoroughbred racing industry, and there is an international emphasis on the breeding of early-maturing animals. There is good evidence that racing as a two-year-old does not reduce the length of a horse’s racing career (Seder and Vickery 1995, RIRDC 1998, Bramlage 2008).

Recent multi-centre work has demonstrated that early exercise in the racehorse can serve as a form of conditioning for musculoskeletal tissues and can be protective against injury. The early exercise was shown to advance the natural maturation processes in the tissues of the conditioned horses.

There should be close attention to the husbandry, diet, training and racing schedules of young horses to reduce the incidence of exercise-induced injuries. Further measures to decrease injuries to all racing horses should include improvements in track layout design, track racing surface construction, and educational programs for industry personnel.

There is an increased risk of shin soreness in two-year-olds and horses should be monitored for this and managed as appropriate.

Consideration should be given to the increased incidence of equine gastric ulcer syndrome, respiratory disease and behavioural problems associated with stabling.

Horses should be provided with access to paddock turn-out as often as possible and practicable. Stables should be well ventilated and as open as possible so horses can see out and interact with other horses at all times.

Initial education and training of two year olds should be conducted according to science-based training methods with attention to the principles of learning theory and appropriate use of positive and negative reinforcement. Clear, simple signals should be given to the horse and punishment and inflicting unnecessary pain should be avoided.


  1. Bramlage LR. The racing of two-year-olds. Grayson Jockey Club Research Today. 2008;25;3:1.
  2. Firth EC, Rogers CW, van Weeren PR, Barneveld A, McIlwraith CW, Kawcak CE, Goodship AE, Smith RK. Mild exercise early in life produces changes in bone size and strength but not density in proximal phalangeal, third metacarpal and third carpal bones of foals.Equine Vet J 20;10:24.
  3. Kawcak CE, McIlwraith CW, Firth EC. Effects of early exercise on metacarpophalangeal joints in horses. Am J Vet Res 2010 Apr; 71;4:405-11.
  4. Kim W, Kawcak CE, McIlwraith CW, Firth EC, McArdle BH, Broom ND. . Influence of early conditioning exercise on the development of gross cartilage defects and swelling behaviour of cartilage extracellular matrix in the equine midcarpal joint. Am J Vet Res 2009;70;5:589-98.
  5. Rogers CW, Firth EC, McIlwraith CW, Barneveld A, Goodship AE, Kawcak CE, Smith RK, van Weeren PR. Evaluation of a new strategy to modulate skeletal development in racehorses by imposing track-based exercise during growth: the effects on 2- and 3-year-old racing careers. Equine Vet J 2008;40;2:119-27.
  6. Bailey, C. J. 1998. Wastage in the Australian Thoroughbred Racing Industry. RIRDC (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Project No. US-25A.Available at:
    Retrieved 12 October 2019
  7. Seder JA and Vickery CE. The relationship of subsequent racing performance to foreleg flight patterns during racing speed workouts of unraced 2-year-old thoroughbred racehorses at auctions. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 1995;25;12:505–522.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Equine jumping races

Equine competitive events (other than jump races and rodeos)

The provision of optimum veterinary services to the horse racing industry

Date of ratification by AVA Board: 20 January 2012