How to pick winning 2-year-old horses

Whether it's in a maiden or a nursery, picking a juvenile (2yo) winner is tricky. But we can help... here's our guide

Throughout the summer, we get to play with our stallion ratings. They’re pretty much useless throughout the winter, but when it comes to spring, summer and early autumn, they start to take on significance.

Juveniles are like kids – they’ll always have a go. When they turn 3, you’ll start to see differences in physiology and psychology – they might turn out stronger, and depending on their stallion, they’ll improve or worsen. They might slack off in certain races at the age of 3, but at the age of 2, you can be sure that they’ll always run and run.

You’ll find them in shorter races, of course – you won’t find toddlers running a five-mile egg and spoon race.

Favourites do have a high strike rate, so it’s hard to make money from 2-year-old races – you’ll often find their strike rate nudging 40%, and there are plenty of good reasons for this:

  1. no bends to tackle: on short sprints, they go on the straight
  2. fewer ‘undulations’ to deal with
  3. less difference in the weights when handicapped or conditioned

So how do you pick a winner in races for 2-year-olds? Do you always go for the favourite? What is it that makes a winning juvenile and what is it that makes a loser? And how do you find proper value?

It’s not just about sticking to the favourite, there’s value to be had by looking elsewhere for potential place bets or overlooked horses.

Here’s the RTH Guide to picking 2-year-olds horses.

Follow the Market

One of the first things to understand about horse racing – of any colour – is that someone somewhere knows more than you do. Unless you’re the trainer. The market is a great guide, and you should watch how odds move on juvenile races very closely. Indeed, if none of the horses have run before, it’s probably your very best guide.

Follow the Money

Obviously, the more an owner has paid for the horse, the better he thought it might be – it’s not the ultimate guide, because you’ll find plenty of 2-year-olds who cost a pretty penny running like, well, like me… and you’ll find plenty of bargains who have gone on to fame and fortune. But knowing how much the owner paid is essential to understanding the potential of the horse.

Follow the Trainers

There are certain trainers who have a great record with two-year-olds. Mark Johnston, for instance, knows exactly what to do in order to get a juvenile winning early on. The market will often swing in their favour, but that was an indication in the first place.

Watch the first race, bet on the second

We have a system here on RTH which looks for 2-year-old horses in their second race. It performs astonishingly well, and has done for a number of years (we ran the systems before the ratings) – in short, it looks for specific trainers (Appleby, Johnston, Stoute, etc.) and certain stallions (Galileo, Dubawi, etc.) who placed first time out – backing the theory that the horse will improve for its second run.

This season, the system is 8 from 12 – it doesn’t pick many, but when it does, it’s a strong pick.

Combine our Stallion Rating with Trainer Rating

Just like a MacLaren would be no good in my hands, a quality 2-year-old race horse would be no good in the hands of a useless trainer. Therefore, the stallion rating should never be taken in isolation. A combination of a top-3 stallion rating with a top-3 trainer ratings would be sufficient to indicate a potential winner.

This works brilliantly – and is one of the most efficient ways of finding valuable 2-year-old winners, especially when unraced.

There are around 20 to 30 stallions in Europe who produce winners. Your chances of backing a winner sired by one of these stallions rises potentially five-fold. Our stallion ratings combine an analysis of the stallion’s performance in similar conditions, at similar times, and in similar races. It’s the best way to understand how the stallion contributes to the potential of the juvenile.

So get to know your bloodstock – look for the traditional horses such as Galileo, Dubawi and Montjeu, and you’ll see patterns across all of those horses – Montjeu’s progeny, for instance, can be quite quirky and temperamental, but talented with it. And look for the new stallions – Zoffany, for instance, is developing a habit of producing Group 1 winners.

Try out our ratings today for two weeks, free of charge.