The Beauty of Backing 2 Year Old Thoroughbred Racehorses

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I FINALLY met up with The One-Armed Man, something Dr Richard Kimble, better known as David Janssen, failed to do in 120 episodes of the classic American television series The Fugitive. Kimble, some of you may remember, was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, managed to escape when the train transporting him to a maximum security prison was de-railed, and spent the rest of his life – well, all of the series – trying in vain to track down the real killer, The One-Armed Man.

However, the one-armed man I refer to is a semi-professional gambler who lives in Wolverhampton and frequents the Midlands tracks. I hadn’t seen him in about five years but we still share something, apart from three good arms! That’s a love of two-year-old races.

I had schlepped to Leicester to back a juvenile at the bookies raceside in the first and he was there, perusing the runners in the paddock. We both agreed that the only danger – a Michael Bell debutant to be ridden by Jamie Spencer – was extremely edgy in the paddock and looked very green and inexperienced on what was his first visit to a racecourse.

I’ve been going racing for several decades but I must admit my paddock judgement is pretty naff. The only thing I can really tell is whether a horse is totally unfit. But, as everyone else, can see that a horse if fat or ‘gone in its coat’ it doesn’t give me much of an edge.

The one-armed man, though, fancies himself as a bit of a paddock expert although in my view only those closely connected with the horse can really know whether a horse is fit or not. Some horses carry more condition than others – and might not look as fit as others in the field, but that’s just the way they are.

The only thing I inspect is the form book. And if a horse has some decent form in the book then it gives it a massive edge over rivals who haven’t raced. A run will give a previously unraced two-year-old a big advantage. My selection was a good second in the first two-year-old race of the season, the Brocklesby, at Doncaster and proved too good for his rivals, all of whom were unraced.

I know it’s a classic case of ‘after-timing’, but my theory will hold good for a good few months to come. Even after the season has settled down, I still feel two-year-olds offer punters the best chance of making some dosh. One key factor is that they are too young to have picked up any bad habits, like many of their elders, who need to be persuaded to put their best hooves forward.

Look at some races and you’ll see horses with blinkers, cheek pieces, tongue-ties and eye shields. Some trainers even resort to the last resort, getting their jockey to wear spurs although how the north London side can persuade anyone to win is completely beyond my (admittedly, limited) imagination!

Two-year-olds invariably give their running – and don’t have too many off days. They haven’t been soured by too much racing and, in the first few months of the Flat turf season, will only be racing over trips of five or six furlongs, which also makes punting a little easier, cutting out some of the variables.

But a few words of warning. I would advise you to steer clear of nurseries. They’re just handicaps for two-year-olds and are pretty tough to figure, in my opinion. And ‘my’ one-armed man told me once: ‘Don’t give a two-year-old too many chances’. I have taken that on board and once a juvenile has run three or four times without winning I rarely give him or her another chance. They might be the exception to the rule, but I’m not paying to find out. Of course, the reverse is also true. Some two-year-olds just keep on wining and winning. The best example of this is the sequence of successes by two youngsters trained by Newmarket-based Bill O’Gorman. He saddled Timeless Times (1990) and Provideo (1984) to 16 – yes, you read it right, 16 – straight wins apiece.

How he kept them on the boil or at least simmering throughout their long first seasons was a remarkable feat. Unsurprisingly, no one has got close since, but it doesn’t mean it will never be equalled or even surpassed although I doubt it.

Of course, two-year-olds grow up into the Classic generation in the following season and it’s interesting to watch them develop from green-as-grass youngsters to hardened professionals. In fact, following two-year-olds can give you a very clear picture of what might win the next season’s Guineas, Oaks and Derby.

Happy punting…

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