Union Rags Racehorse

Racing Babies: Are Two Year Olds Too Young?


Globally, the sport of horse racing is a multi-billion dollar industry where both fortunes are made and fortunes are woefully lost. More than $100 million worth of bets are placed each year on the Kentucky Derby alone. [1]

What once existed as a revered pastime is now a powerful commercial empire replete with influential stakeholders all vying for a piece of the proverbial pie.

While many may believe that the vast majority of the money funnels into the industry via purses and wagering, the principle source of capital is central to the breeding shed and auction ring.

Akin to the stock market, racing is governed by callous investors thirsty for prosperity while profiteering at all and any expense, most notably the horse.

Moreover, with the evolution of this lucrative industry’s business model the arrival of two-year-old racing has become the norm, in part as a consequence of the ever-increasing prize money together with the added advantage of maximizing profitability by exploitation of mere babies in the most honest sense of the word.

More than a sport, horse racing is a huge business where moneyed gentry spend their fortunes during yearling sales with the expectation that these horses begin to earn their keep at the tender age of two. Indeed an unyielding situation in which horses are valued largely for the first three years of their life wherein their bona fide value is ultimately established. Above all the investor’s main objective is to race 2-year olds in preparation for the celebrated 3-year old stakes races after which these adolescent horses will be retired to the breeding shed. It is well recognized that the modern Thoroughbred’s peak earning potential occurs at the age of three with, on average, diminishing return at the age of four and beyond.

“I think there’s probably a much stronger tendency to have two year old racing nowadays than there used to be….and the lure of prize money. There’s a great incentive to race their horses too young too immature. In the old days, you bought your yearlings, you broke them in, you castrated them, you turned them out. You didn’t think about them until late 2 year old and mostly three year olds. The big money came with three-year-old racing. The current owners want two-year-old racing and I think it’s a pity. I think it’s a pity because it certainly does cause the breakdown of a lot of two year olds.” [2]

However pressing and cost-effective it is to race a 2-year old rather than maintaining their upkeep without profit for a year, one must query whether this is in the best interest of the horse. It is a given fact that a horse is not physically mature until the age of six yet racehorses are routinely forced to begin training at 18 months which puts extreme and unnatural stress on their developing musculoskeletal systems. [3]   Many contend this leads to an elevated risk of injury during training and racing while others maintain it is necessary to maximize bone and tendon strength in preparation for the demanding racing schedule many are confronted with as 2 and 3-year olds.

As with anything related to horse racing, it seems, there is much controversy regarding 2-year old racing. Undeniably exercise is recognized as enhancing strength and bone density during skeletal development. However, for practical purposes, it is the question as to the degree and rigorousness of what exercise regime is necessary. More to the point should 2-year old racing be tolerated in consequence of greed overshadowing judiciousness?


Jane Allin is Chief Research Analyst for the Int’l Fund for Horses and regular contributor to Tuesday’s Horse, primarily specializing in the Premarin Horses and Horse Racing issues. Jane dedicates numerous hours working for the welfare of horses and is the proud mother of two spoiled Golden Retrievers, Alex and Abby. A native Canadian, Jane has volunteered with the Int’l Fund for Horses since 2009.

© Int’l Fund for Horses



Breeders’ Cup Juvenile: Unlikely Road to Kentucky Derby Glory?, The Derby Post (blog), Oct. 20, 2011


UNION RAGS, who was second in the 2011 Breeders Cup Juvenile race for 2-year old Thoroughbreds, was the early favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby, a race for 3-year olds and considered by many as the most coveted prize in horse racing. Image Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

8 thoughts on “Racing Babies: Are Two Year Olds Too Young?”

  1. Thank You Jane Alin and Lisa, Jane for your concise and appealing writing and Lisa for your wonderful story, there are so many wonderful stories out there about the Magnificent thoroughbred, his stamina is a thing of wonder, he is appreciative for any love bestow upon him, he wants to win he is competitive , and most of all he is most eager to please………although there are many things wrong with Racing for them , all fixable …..It houses and feeds and takes care of so many it is worth the effort to address all of the issues……………..Where would the thousands be if not for Racing????


    1. Secretariat was literally my first crush; I could not get enough of him, when he raced, in magazines, newpapers – that Horse had everything, including my 12 year-old heart. And in those days there was an elegance and honor in the sport. Owners, spectators, jockeys – they all knew why they were there and who were the Stars.
      But in the effort to ‘breed’ another Triple Crown winner, the betterment of the Horse has suffered. Who needs to feed Lasix to an athlete before an event? And what kind of quack medical professional would be cool with that? How many of these beautiful animals have died well before their time from bodies broken before they’ve even had a chance to develop fully? And they pay so dearly for their failures. This is no longer the Sport of Kings; it’s become a haven of depraved indifference.
      A 2 year old horse of any breed is still essentially a child – with bones and tendons still forming. Most horses don’t begin their physical peak until 5 or 6 at which point they become formidable. THERE is the sport – a healthy, strong leviathan with a heart for competition and a willingness to gallop – for the sheer joy of it.
      Babies should be allowed their babyhood, for play and formation.
      (My apologies, Vivian; my mouth runneth over…)


      1. Secretariat was the first Super Horse I had the privilege of witnessing. To look at him, live and in the flesh, he wasn’t even like a horse; he was otherworldly. Incredible. I will never forget his casting his eye over me for that split second. Heaven. Your comments are most welcome Lisa. Please keep sharing!


  2. Before I read the body of the article, I responded to the title. And the answer is a resounding “Yes”.

    My 21 year-oldThroughbred was raced locally as a two year-old. He brought in some money for his owner at that time, but the consequences to his knees were near-crippling. A ‘thoughtful’ track vet offered to shoot steroids into his legs so he could continue, but his owner, to my eternal gratitude, said no, and promptly took Shane off track. He spent the next 18 months as a pasture ornament. A few trainers I had met who tried to re-train him said he just didn’t ‘have it’, whatever that meant. But I can tell you, he is one of THE finest horses I’ve ever met, and not simply because I love him. He has the temperament of a Labrador Retriever – playful, silly, loyal – but I have no doubt as to his fate if he and I had not come into each other’s lives.

    He is descended from royalty – I recently learned he has both Man O’ War and War Admiral in his blood lines, but beyond that, he is simply a grand fella. We’ve been fortunate; his injuries as a youngster have never caused him issues as an adult (I suspect it might have been the 18 months of recovery that helped) but he is one of the lucky ones.

    I cannot abide those who will not respect these animals. He is, even at 21, every inch the althlete – better-built and stronger than he was as a two-year-old. When he thunders across the pasture at eye-watering speed, just to come to see ME – I wonder if ‘good’ will ever be good enough for those seeking the next Triple Crown winner.


    1. What a terrific story, Lisa. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it. It is so very important that more people understand what wonderful horses these are, and that it is ‘safe’ — as a matter of fact wonderful — to add them to your family. And I absolutely adore Man O’War. Great genes!


  3. During the 1980’s, I worked with racing Standardbreds. The barn manager was a lifelong horseman, real plain, practical, and fully focused on the individual horse and effective training. He’d often remark how the Thoroughbred racing industry was ‘nuts’ to so aggressively work a young horse, with its Triple Crown campaign for 3 YO’s. The irony was that we then had a 2 YO in training at the farm, Butch Lobell. He soon went on to harness racing’s big series.
    It can be argued, tho, that the racing gallop has greater impact on joints, etc – young or otherwise — than a racing trot or pace does.


    1. I grew up with Thoroughbreds, but know a little about Standardbreds. We never galloped our 2 yo’s until the Fall, and after they had plenty of roadwork. But that was eons ago. Horse racing, while it has always been a big money sport with plenty of grubbers, it was nothing like it is now. I suppose it has always been a terribly rough game for the horses, no matter what the era. Thank you for your insights Kathryn.


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