Two-year-old horse racing is frequently looked at as a gateway to success in the years to follow. It is the reason that so many horse racing enthusiasts are such big fans of tracking horses at that age to find out who the next big things in the sport might be. But after the first leg of the Triple Crown, is it better to be a two-year-old with little to no experience?
The latest case of an unraced two-year-old going from untested to at the top of the heap is Justify, who won the Kentucky Derby. Justify pulled off that feat on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs after a miserable day of weather in Kentucky. More importantly, Bob Baffert's colt managed to do something that hadn't been done since the late 1800s when he won the Kentucky Derby after not racing at age two.
Justify is favoured to win the Preakness Stakes as well, which is the second leg of the Triple Crown. And while he is anything but a sure thing to claim the race at Pimlico, Justify is in a great position to strike a blow in the name of unraced two-year-olds with a strong showing in the Preakness. Were he to win that race, he would be just one win away from being the second horse since 1980 to win the Triple Crown.
What makes racing at age two such an interesting proposition is the fact that horses are not fully developed at that age in most cases. The bones of the horse especially are not yet fully grown, which makes the subject of racing at age two a divisive one. In some cases, racing at age two is great for strengthening a horse who needs the training to be great when it gets older. But in others, racing as a two-year-old can only harm the horse. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to racing at age two, but seeing the decision not to race Justify as a two-year-old pay off with a Kentucky Derby win is a huge victory for Baffert and company.
It will be interesting to see if Justify can keep his Triple Crown run going given how difficult it is to sustain such a high level of racing. Over at William Hill, the colt is favoured to win the Preakness and is at strong odds to claim the Triple Crown. That is an encouraging sign for the horse and for its team but is a sign that racing at two years old isn't essential for success when it comes time for a horse to take part in the biggest races in the sport.
As always, it is important for horses to be treated on a case-by-case basis. And it is just as important for horse racing enthusiasts to know these horses that are not being raced at a formative age, so they can see the next Triple Crown contender before they become a big deal.