Happy Birthday to all the Thoroughbreds

By Art Parker

It rarely comes up in debates over handicapping races because it is widely understood among regular track goers, but the age of a thoroughbred often befuddles some novices.

In the North Hemisphere, all thoroughbreds share the same birthday, which is January first. It makes no difference the month in which a horse was foaled, the four legged wonder advances in age when we sing Auld Lang Syne.

It makes sense that the thoroughbred industry revolves around the track and the entertaining product it puts before the public every day.  The product, known as a race, frequently centers around gender, but not always. However every race always addresses the issue of age. Age is the central issue in all racing conditions, from the $5,000 claiming race at Golden Gate to the Kentucky Derby every May at Churchill Downs.

beautiful birthday candles  on blue backgroundWe run horses where they belong, or at least that is the idea, when it comes to age, which is the first reason for the using the same birthday. We never race a two-year old against a horse age three or older. We generally do not race three year olds against older horses until early summer time, and then, throughout the balance of the calendar year, the three year olds will get a break in weight most of the time. If you sit around the table at the track with a group of experienced players you will often here two year olds called babies, the three year olds are often called sophomores, and all others are generally referred to as older horses.

Most horses are not full grown until sometime in their five year old year, but generally speaking, when a horse turns four there is little physical disadvantage in age between the four year old and one that is older. This is why we see conditions early in the year that say “For four year olds and upward,” and from the summertime until January first we see conditions say “For three year olds and upward.”

It is a consistent and dependable system to organize races by age group, and it is the fair thing to do.

The second reason for this is that we control the breeding season based upon the gestation period of broodmares. Generally, a mare will drop a foal after eleven months of pregnancy. The idea is to bring a new runner into the world sometime after January first. For the most part, all thoroughbreds are foaled in January, February and March. We will see some late foals in April and even a rarer May foal pops up every now and then. This is a very intriguing part of managing the breed; a breeder knows a horse foaled early in the year has a better chance of maturity than others in relationship to race time as a two year old.

It should be noted that things are a little different in the Southern Hemisphere. The birthday system works similarly, but the big date is August first.


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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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