In the November and December issues of PPM the foundations were laid over two articles devoted to the combined elements of distance, going and field size within a? race that contribute to the stamina contest of the race.

Concentration was focused solely on post-autumn three-year-old horses or older horses largely because their form has begun to show exactly where they stand in terms of the races they are likely to win.

This final article examines two-year-olds and three-year-olds separately because the second and third year of a horse’s life are about growth and learning. Observing the rolled-up effect of distance, going and field size for two and three-year-olds is still essentially valid but, as these young horses are working their way to their eventual niche, their form can often appear to be inconsistent when form comparisons are made between early two-year-old form, late two-year-old form, early three-year-old form and late three-year-old form.

As an example, a late-season two-year-old could be quite capable of winning at 1400m, however (and somewhat confusingly), in the long run this could mean either he or she is a talented sprinter or an emerging stayer.
?Still, using form assessment via the distance, going and field size concept you will get to see the relationship between two-year-old form and three-year-old form and perhaps the rest of its career, too. Two-year-old and three-year-old form is sometimes quite difficult to compare as, quite often,? and especially with emerging stayers, they don’t seem to relate to each other all that well.

In the year that a young racehorse first emerges you’ll find that distance, going and field size can be as relevant as any other method of form assessment, however, I have mentioned in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the “Elements of Stamina” that it is better to use this method of form analysis on older horses than younger ones as the form of older horses will have “settled down” to a level where the required stamina contest can be much more easily measured.

To muddy the waters further, two-year-olds are also climbing the handicap as they race and are, therefore, still racing towards their eventual class level. Distance, going and field size may seem to suggest that a young horse needs certain conditions to win but, as they are still learning, growing and improving with every start, the relevance of the first few runs in a two-year-old’s life can start to seem irrelevant even by the end of its first racing year.

Nevertheless, there are some instances where distance, going and field size combined together can be used effectively. In fact, just through being aware of the significance of field size alone, Golden Slipper assessment is made significantly easier. In the last 20 years, all previous winners of the Golden Slipper have achieved a win in a race with a double-figure field size (other than a maiden race) before taking the Golden Slipper.

This means that every year about a third of the field can be disposed of because they will line up at Rosehill without this requirement.?Well-touted horses that lined up in the Slipper in past few years without wins such as these included Diego Garcia and Churchill Downs from 2006 and Fashions Afield and Domesday from 2005.

However, while I am interested in the distance, going and field size of a two-year-old’s cumulative form, I will be just as interested in the race times that a young horse will clock. Particular use of the stopwatch when assessing two-year-olds is probably the primary method for assessing two-year-old form. Young horses are so filled with verve and consistency that race-times and their sectionals are just as important as tools with which to assess form.

Strangely enough, I feel that much of what has been said on the subject of two-year-olds can be applied to a lot of three-year-olds as well. This is because quite a number of horses don’t hit the racetrack until they turn three.

As a consequence they will be just starting out in their racing careers, too, and will therefore only offer a limited amount of form that can be scrutinised using distance, going and field size. Still, if a horse has raced significantly as a two-year-old then their juvenile form could be used to help make sense of three-year-old form.

However, the main thing to remember about three-year-olds is that they, like two-year-olds, are developing horses. However, achievements made within the two-year-old season ought to be comparable with the three-year-old season depending on what was achieved at two and, importantly, when it was achieved.

If a two-year-old is winning high-class (i.e Group 1 or Group 2) sprint races, in fields of any size, before January then it is very likely that the horse’s three-year-old season will see it remain as a sprinter. If a two-year-old wins high class sprint races in small fields (under 10 runners) in the autumn months of March and April then it may have a three-year-old career as a sprinter or sprinter-miler as a three-year-old (and older).

However, if a two-year-old wins high class race sprint races in large fields (under 10 runners) in the autumn months of March and April then it may have the potential in its three-year-old career as a sprinter, sprinter-miler? or miler as a spring three-year-old. Reading the past form of achievements of a three-year-old horse as a two-year-old is a thorny process!

Form becomes even harder to interpret if track conditions become rain-affected as well. It is because of these problems that form assessed using the combined force of distance, going and field size works a little more easily when horses have reached the winter of their three-year-old-career or the spring of their four-year-old career.

In Australia, the vast majority of turf horses are bred with speed in mind. Australian breeders are heavily encouraged, by the racing calendar laid out for them, to breed animals that sprint.

The sprinters madly dash over the short courses like bullets from a gun while the middle-distance horses, especially in spring, dawdle round the sharp curves of the average Australian racecourse and then sprint for home at the 600m mark.

Basically, the two-year-old season is dominated by horses that are bred to go fast. Often, the supposed staying tests for two-year-olds, the 1400m and 1600m races that arrive in the autumn, are mopped up by those animals blessed with large amounts of brilliance and that brilliance and speed can carry over the winter and into the spring of its three-year-old season, too. So much so that the staying tests of Melbourne’s spring seem to be dominated by horses bred for speed at shorter distances.

They’ve matured earlier so they steal a considerable advantage. The spring Guineas are won by horses that will be sprinters in later life while the spring staying races are won by horses that eventually excel at middle distances. ?
Miss Finland is an outstanding horse and one of the rarer animals from recent years who made an impact in the Group 1 autumn two-year-old events in Sydney and then later became a winner at 2500m in the VRC Oaks in the following spring.

She is blessed with more than her fair share of speed although she is from a stayer’s family. While the VRC Oaks win was fantastic it was yet another example of how the spring classics are won by horses that are invariably completely unsuited to a similar distance in their later careers. It didn’t come as a shock to hear Miss Finland’s connections state that she would be back in the autumn for Sydney’s events but will be sticking to the 1600m–2000m arena.

By the autumn the real 2400m sorts are hitting full maturity and are much more of a handful. Incidentally, it’s well worth scrutinising placed horses from the Melbourne spring classics as most of these are often horses who have shown Group 1 potential but have yet to fully mature.

An exception is obviously Mahogany, however, his dominant five length win in the 1993 VRC Derby meant that there was a chasm of difference between him and his generation, but it’s worth noting that nearly all of his three-year-old wins at Group 1 were in field sizes of 13 or above. When the field size dropped below 10 he became more vulnerable.

When it comes to the sprinters things seem a little less fuzzy but field sizes and going should still be noted. The more usual winner of Group 1 and 2 autumn two-year-old events are sprinters of the highest order, and where the 1400m and 1600m events are meant to attract a staying type of two-year-old many of those types have not yet matured which will mean that the numbers entered will be much fewer and, and as consequence, hand the advantage back to the sprinters.

High-level sprinting achievements at two usually lead to high-level sprinting achievements at three and beyond.
No shock there of course.?Things might be different if the autumn is very wet though and horses that win in slow ground in double-figure fields should be noted for the future as potential middle-distance horses for the following year. Even so, sprinters still hold a huge advantage even in those sorts of conditions as they are simply more mature.

As an example, it is interesting to compare the careers of Burst and Dance Hero, both of whom won the two-year-old “triple crown”.

Both achievements were made in similar circumstances; a large field Golden Slipper followed by a Sire’s Produce win in a field half the size, followed by a Champagne win (at 1600m) in an even smaller field. These three races seem progressively harder in terms of stamina because the distance was increasing but, in fact, the stamina condition remained pretty much the same throughout.

Both horses preferred high-stamina sprints or very small field “miles”. The achievements in the longer events caused Burst to have a relatively fruitless career in staying events as an older horse that she had no real chance of winning. Dance Hero was, however, continually raced as a sprinter with his best form returning once he had his big field conditions returned to him, as in the 2006 Salinger.

As I have alluded to earlier, trying to deduce which way a two-year-old will go in its next seasons can be a thorny process. Such is the “speedy” nature of so many Australian thoroughbreds’ pedigrees it is difficult to match the first year’s achievements with the rest of an animal’s career, but keeping track on the field sizes (and their pedigrees too) will help to understand a horse’s past or potential.

DANCE HERO: DP = 2-3-7-0-0 (12) DI = 2.43 ? CD = 0.58
Danzero – Gypsey Dancer (Dance Floor)

Here’s Dance Hero’s “triple crown”:

  • April 17, 2004? 1/4?? 1.3 L 1600? 2G1? RAND Good (Champagne)
  • April 10, 2004? 1/13? 0.8 L 1400? 2G1? RAND Slow (Sire’s Prod.)
  • April 3, 2004? 1/13? 0.2? L 1200? 2G1? RHIL? Good (Gold. Slipper)

Dance Hero’s Golden Slipper and Sire’s Produce wins certainly showed sprinting ability and his dosage is one with its emphasis on speed.

The “Champagne” win seemed to hint that he might have the potential to box at all levels as a three-year-old but the four runner field suggests otherwise. If the “Champagne” had had a double-figure field size (and slower ground) that year then it is much more likely that the eventual third placed horse, Savabeel, would have have had more of a say in the outcome.

Having a knowledge of the galvanised effect of distance, going and field size can help to view some two-year-old form with a certain amount of caution.

We have walked around the issue of stamina using distance, going and field size in combination as a basic method of analysis. I hope that it serves as some kind of insight for translating a horse’s form.

Bear in mind that these articles are not urging you to stick to this method of analysis alone. The tone of the writings is not so Calvinist as to suggest that this is the only way to see things. Other factors such as: a horse’s achievements on the clock, barrier assessments, referring to official assessments from organisations like Timeform and checking a horse’s racing style, are just a few of the other issues that need to be considered as well.

Form will often seem quite flexible at first glance and possibly quite imprecise but I think that one of the most positive benefits this method can offer is that most horses (racing within their own class) do, in fact, need quite a precise environment to succeed.

By looking at form in this way you will have a relatively simple method that can help to show the “shape” of a horse’s best winning conditions and this, in turn, can show some truth and clarity on the subject of a horse’s ability. It will also frequently provide a? solution as to why any horse will seem to under-perform just when it is thought that it should succeed and also when a horse suddenly seems to win out of the blue.

More often than not, horses run honestly yet they are frequently saddled with the wrong reasons for their losses. All they are doing is waiting for the day when they get exactly what they need.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Julian Mould