This is an emotive subject and very few racehorse trainers, breeders or even administrators will have any degree of acceptance of my point of view. I dare say few will agree with me. But then again how many people actually ever consider the subject of 2-year-olds and the weight we put on their backs.
In the 3.00 at Brighton on September 4th, a Nursery, the top-weight carried 9st 9lbs, with the bottom weight due to carry 9st 1lb. The 9 runners were all 2-year-olds. Does no one ask whether it is right for 2-year-olds to be saddled with more weight than the 3-year-old colts who run in the Derby and the other classics? To my mind it is utterly wrong to expect a 2-year-old to race with anything like 9st 9lbs on its back. I believe the weights allocated to horses these days is based more on the weight of jockeys than what is fair to the general welfare of the horse. 2-year-olds are babies, for pities sake. This time last year they were unbroken yearlings. If children are the future of the human race, can we not treat 2-year-old horses as the future of the sport of horse racing and not treat them as if they are readily disposable?
In case you should think I have highlighted a race in isolation simply as an example of my point let us move on to Ripon and the 2.10. Top weight is 9st 5lbs. The 2.40, top weight 9st 11lbs, for pities sake. At Windsor, the 1.50, top weight 9st 5lbs. The 2.20, top weight 9st 10lbs. Roscommon, the 4.45, top weight 9st 5lbs. Goodwood, 2.40, top weight 9st 5lbs. The 3.15, top weight 9st 7lbs. Kempton 5.50, top weight 9st 9lbs.
To my mind racing has allowed a form of passive abuse to become standard practice. To my mind no 2-year-old should ever carry more than 8st 11lbs. If this suggestion was to be implemented it would serve a second purpose – because in the main the top jockeys can allow themselves the luxury of a square meal every now and again, a maximum top weight in 2-year-old races of 8st 11lbs would allow the lesser lights of the weighing room to receive more opportunities per season to prove their worth. To return to my first example the weight range would become 8st 11lbs to 7st 13lbs. Win-win, I suggest, for the light weights.
I believe the whole issue of 2-year-old races should be reassessed. If I had my way there would be no 2-year-old races until May or June and the number of Group races for 2-year-olds be severely reduced. That, of course, will not happen as a large part of the industry is founded on the ill-conceived notion of producing precocious 2-year-olds and for owners of fillies the need for ‘black type’. Racehorses, as it is with the breeding of other types of horse, should be reared with longevity in mind. At the moment, as for many decades, foals and yearlings are cash crops, with very little emphasis put on longevity or even the well-being of the species as a whole.
2-year-old racing is not wrong, there is simply too much importance put on it. It is no coincidence, I suggest, that year after year the Derby winner hardly runs as a 2-year-old and when it is raced it is with the future in mind. Asking a 2-year-old to carry 9st 9lbs is in no way looking after the interests of any horse’s long-term future.
For not only the good of its image but for the good of the thoroughbred species, the sport as a whole should ask itself whether there is now too much emphasis on the breeding of early, precocious two-year-olds, with the resultant ‘collateral damage’ of so many young horses ending up surplus to requirements at the end of its first, and sometimes only, season? Two-year-olds are babies and though they may appear strong at an age when the rules allow them to be raced, it should be remembered that in every other walk of equestrian life a two-year-old would hardly have been weaned, never mind asked to go out to work. At such a young age they are naturally soft, with back muscles, joints and tendons easily strained. A thoroughbred is not so very different from a horse bred for show-jumping, dressage or any other equestrian sport. Asking a two-year-old to carry more weight than a Derby runner is plain illogical, if not bordering on the image of the over-burdened donkey that the excellent Brooke Hospital Charity advertisements depict.
I finish by quoting Lt-Col P.D.Stewart from his book ‘Training The Race-Horse’.
“Mr Pycroft compares the skeletons of Eclipse, Persimmon, Ayrshire, St.Frusquin and St.Simon. All the neural spines of Eclipse stand perfectly clear of one another; the slight adhesions between the sixteenth and seventeenth thoracic and the last two lumbar are due to old age. With Persimmon, however, no fewer than nine of the thoracic – from the eleventh to the nineteenth – have formed false articular surfaces, due to having been loaded with a greater weight than they should carry in the early days of training – consequently the free ends of the neural spine have been forced one against the other and the friction to set up has caused them to throw out ‘bony exostases’.
It should be noted that the point Lt.Col. Stewart is making is that Eclipse did not race until he was 4-years old; Persimmon and the others raced as 2-year-olds.
He goes on to say. “I would ask all who are interested in the welfare of the horse to do all they can to persuade the Stewards of the Jockey Club to act now, to reduce and finally abolish 2-year-old racing altogether.”
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.