Come early October and we'll all be getting excited again as the new season two-year-olds start to hit the metropolitan racetracks.

Remember 2003? The venue was Randwick on October 4 and the race was the Breeders Plate over 1000m. So who won it? Well, it was a baby named Charge Forward. And who did he beat? Another baby named Wenceslaus Square. And who ran 3rd? A newcomer named Dance Hero.

This one race tells us something about the new season and what to expect. The Breeders Plate is a "keypoint" race and the horses that run well in it are very likely to prove themselves stars of the following year.

Charge Forward ran 2nd in the Golden Slipper. Dance Hero won it. Last year's Breeders Plate was almost as potent. It was won by Snitzel from Banished and AI Samer. Snitzel went on to win three races at Wyong, Doomben and Canterbury. AI Samer ran 3rd in the Magic Millions at the Gold Coast and then scored in a Group 3 race, the Black Opal 1200m at Canberra.

The one basic rule for me with early season youngsters is to stick with the big stables. They'll pick up most of the winners, give or take a handful. In Brisbane, Bruce McLachlan, Alan Bailey, Shaun Dwyer, maybe Ron Maund. In Sydney, John Hawkes, the Denhams, John O'Shea, and in Melbourne it's Hawkes again, Lee Freedman, Mick Price.

A good friend of mine, lan MacArthur, believes strongly in looking for good things from the mature 2yo gallopers. He says: "He wins one, maybe two, gets 58kg or so, and along comes another horse with 52kg or so, first start.

"They back the newcomer as if there were no settling and the top weight, who is mature, totally fit and educated, gets out in the betting. I've actually had double-figures about these winners.

"It's pretty simple stuff that pays off. Look for the topweight in a 2yo race, and see if it has won one or preferably two races from its last two or three starts. The point, in general, is sound enough; it's that lesser horses often fail against slightly more mature types, regardless of weight advantages that might be thrown their way.

"The surprising thing is the TAB returns on these top weights. It really makes the bet worthwhile, and even the trifecta, using the horse as a stand out banker, can be returned at a premium price."

My colleague The Optimist has always been a somewhat cautious punter when it comes to the babies. I know that he dislikes betting on ANY 2yo before the Golden Slipper carnival, though he's pretty much a regular when it comes to betting pre-post on the Slipper.

The Optimist has other firm views about the 2yo's. For instance, he won't bet on them in Brisbane and Adelaide AT ALL! And he will NOT bet on them in Melbourne before April.

What he looks for in a youngster is speed. He will only ever bet on a 2yo which is possessed of the ability to run on the pace. He has little time for those that are run off their legs and which rely on being able to finish over the top.

His final two rules are as follows:

  1. He will never back an apprentice on a 2yo.
  2. He will never back a 2yo trying a distance beyond 1200m for the first time.

Well, you may disagree with some of what The Optimist has to say, but he is a cautious type when it comes to this area of our racing world. He does have a good point to make, I believe, in regard to holding back from betting until well into the season.

This means that the form is very well laid out for us by this stage (say March or April) and we know which of the juveniles have performed well in the Magic Millions at the Cold Coast, a race which is often a handy guide to what might happens in the rest of the season.

Not that I am a strick adherent to this approach. I'm far too much of a sucker for the earlier races and having my little plunges on some of the youngsters from the top stables. I've won a lot over the years on John Hawkes-trained babies. Same for Lee Freedman.

I suppose a good point about 2yo racing is that the number of imponderables, or variables, is reduced. Reading through Roger Dedman's excellent book Commonsense Punting the other day I noted the comments he made in such a vein.

Dedman wrote: "The beauty of two-year-old races is that the number of variables is reduced. All runners are the same age, they are usually similarly experienced (or inexperienced) and, especially in the early races, they have all been running over the same distance. Furthermore, it is usually possible to compare runners directly on past runs, or indirectly by taking a line through another horse."

Dedman rightly warns, though, that favourites in 2yo races should be treated with some caution. He explains: "A superficial look at the form will usually bring you to the conclusion that the favourite deserves its short quote; but considering the importance of hidden variables, in particular the unknown extent to which different young horses will improve from one start to the next, many of these favourites are grossly under the odds.

"This means that at least one other horse in the race will be at longer odds than it deserves to be; your aim should be to determine that horse or those horses. With this in mind, consider EVERY horse in the race.

"You may still not find anything you think can beat the favourite but you may turn up a runner at doublefigure odds with a good place chance. The place bet could provide better value than the favourite straight out."

A professional punter of my acquaintance, admittedly not a great student of form, says he likes to bet the early two-year-old races simply because of the grip held on them by major stables.

"I follow the money," he told me. "Blokes like 0'Shea, Hawkes, Freedman and of course Gai Waterhouse and the like will always have classy youngsters and word soon gets around about them. By raceday, the market is usually very accurate. I just step in and back the early boom horses. Waterhouse juveniles are a good bet; she has them wound up and she always has top riders aboard.

"I can't see why punters want to find excuses not to bet in the 2yo races. I see little difference in them to other races. If you can spot a winner, why worry about what class of race it is or how old the horses are?"

This punter (a most successful one, I must stress) has simple advice, then, for fellow bettors keen to back 2yo winners:

  1. Follow the big stables.
  2. Follow the money.
  3. Follow the barrier trial form.
  4. Follow the top riders.

He says: "It may seem a very simplistic formula but I've found in 30 years of this game that the simpler the better. Stick with the men and women who make big money from training and riding 2yo winners each and every year. Don.t be afraid to back more than one horse in a race to cover yourself. You'll win if you're sensible."

And my own view? Check back to 12 months ago in September, October and November, check the trainers and riders of the city winners, and get around to backing them again. Winners is winners is winners!

By Jon Hudson