In another of my articles this month, I issued a general warning about getting too deeply involved in the Cups’ season, which only lasts from beginning to end maybe three weeks maximum.

This is nothing new on my part, because I take the view that I will have new readers every year and anyway the old ones can always do with a reminder that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in that short period of time. Above all other things, the issue of making or losing money should be paramount in your mind when you come to racing investment.

In all my years of writing, I have never had one criticism when I reiterate this dire warning every year. I interpret this as meaning that my regular readers (thank you, RR!) appreciate a timely jolt in that particular direction.

Ironically, right at the other end of the racing spectrum, we will be seeing the emergence of a brand-new group of babies: the two-year-olds. You can find any number of adjectives to describe these bubs, ranging from “precocious” to “inexperienced” and going all the way to little tags such as “still learning” and “will get better with racing”.

The most difficult thing of the lot for the average investor to interpret is probably that group of comments which is based on trainer reputations and trials, either official or otherwise, in which the youngsters have taken part. I have a very simple solution to all this, one which has met with the approval of most serious racing investors of my acquaintance.

It is simply to totally ignore trial form at any stage of a horse’s career, with one very important exception. I’ll leave you to think about the exception while we talk about why we should ignore it most of the time.

In my view, trials are for the connections and the trainer, and sometimes the jockey, but they are not for the punter. This is never more true than in the case of a horse which has never raced.

I have not forgotten (it wasn’t that so far back in time, maybe 10 years) a senior premiership-winning jockey reportedly getting off a baby horse after a trial and declaring it was the best horse he had ever ridden. This man had ridden winners of just about every major race in Australia and this two-year-old was still at the learning stage of the curve. Weird!

It never won another race after the usual token win or two, despite ending up somewhere in the Queensland bush and despite the connections at one stage rejecting a $1 million overseas offer for it. They must have felt pretty sick later on – and maybe misguided, too.

Two-year-olds? Huh! Speaking as a punter/investor, you can keep them if you want, but for me, they don’t enter investment calculations until the Blue Diamond. Even then I’m cautious. Actually, I have an extremely good record (if I do say so myself, and if I don’t who will?) in the Golden Slipper and I’ve managed to identify many of the longer priced winners well prior to the race.

Perhaps a lot of that success can be attributed to my having taught myself to be totally patient about the two-year-olds for the first six months of the season. The best you might get out of me is to pop something on Profit Page, but that would be more in the nature of alerting punters to a possible well-priced winner: I just make it a straight rule in my own case not to get involved with the babies.

Now what about that exception? When might we profit by looking at trials?

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with two-year-olds, but we can profit from the trials if we have a particular interest in an animal which is noted for its first-up performances. Sometimes the horse comes back from a spell and there is a raging hot favourite entered in the same race, and our horse has had maybe three or four campaigns and has won first-up every time. That automatically interests me and I will do as much homework as I can on working out just how far forward the horse is and whether or not it looks as though it could well continue its very happy run of first-up wins.

You can get a lot of good winners that way, but you won’t get the two-year-olds for obvious reasons.

If you must get yourself involved with two-year-olds in the first six months of the season, and remember my strongest possible cautionary advice is “don’t”, then you need to put some kind of brakes on your activities. The first warning sign you will hear or read is the spruiking or touting of a horse you have never heard of.

One thing you can bet on, and you’ll win this one 99 per cent of the time, is that the horse will start below its true price. Every gullible punter in town wants to be on the winner, has to have a bet in every race, and believes one of the greatest pieces of nonsense ever perpetrated by the press (and very sad to say, by one highly-placed pressman even today).

This is that “any price about a winner is a good price”. When I read this yet again not so long ago in a major newspaper, I nearly choked over my cornflakes. Let’s not pursue that subject, but it does alert us to something which I think is probably a dangerous truism of racing, this being that two-year-olds are more exploited than any other age group by the bookmakers.

And who can blame them? They have their markets, they understand the uncertainties associated with this age group, and the vast majority of the punters want to get their money on at odds which, on races for older and more exposed horses, they would never dream of taking. This is yet another reason for my suggesting that betting on two-year-olds starts out confusing and ends up even more perplexing. It doesn’t ever get any easier until the best of them have more or less established themselves.

One way I can assist you, if you are still determined to go ahead and have a crack at a successful career betting on the imponderables of the racetrack children, is to suggest a couple of things you should look out for, based on my years of experience and my watching all forms of horseracing all over the world. I would suggest that you pay enormous respect to the youngster with a win on the board.

Every season, there is a handful of metropolitan occasions where a horse which has already won a race at, say, Randwick a fortnight or so back, is now given topweight over the same course and distance, and an unraced opponent is shouted into favouritism from the hilltops. The handicapper knows what he’s doing. That should be a “given” in your racing world.

Needless to say he won’t get it right all the time, but all he is doing in this case is acknowledging the horse that has “done it” over the horse which has not. Of course maiden two-year-olds turn up and beat the pants off their more experienced opponents every season (every horse has to start somewhere!). However, you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen the new boy on the block rolled by the old stager.

This wouldn’t matter too much in a situation where it was anticipated; but there will be any number of occasions when the old stager, carrying maybe 57kg, and handicapped above the field because he beat another field, quite possibly of equal or more class, at his previous run. He goes around at $6 or $7 and our new boy (because everybody knows he’s a certainty, don’t they?) is crunched, opening at $1.50 and never getting out much at all on the various TABs.

True, the bookmakers will offer a little better and our pal at the top of the weights will be reined in to perhaps $5.50 or even $5.00, but the rank-and-file punters will be all over the first starter like a rash.

OK, I’m the first to admit that this can go wrong and the new boy on the block can turn around and win the race as easily as the favourite punters hoped he would. That’s absolutely true, just as it is obviously a fact that none of us will back 100 per cent winners. However, my suggestion here is that you keep an eye on proven two-year-olds which start maybe second favourite behind a redhot no-form novice.

I’ve seen many examples (these things are all in my memory bank but I’m sure I could dredge up lots of real examples if I had to) of successful young topweights repeating a win, in circumstances that I’m describing right here.

Ideally, you could consider only supporting proven two-year-olds. I suspect that if you sit down and really think hard about it, you could come to my conclusion that it is the only thing about two-year-old investment that makes any sense at all, when unexposed form has a bearing on the result of the race. Look at the Cox Plate. Do you see any horses in that race with unexposed form?

I put this to you in total seriousness: would you even contemplate supporting a horse in the Cox Plate (if it could get a start) when you had no idea at all about its form? Of course not. In fact, the only areas in which punters are invited to risk their money on horses they literally know nothing about are two-year-olds which have never started, and first-time jumpers. At least with the jumpers, we generally have some idea about their flat form. Mind you, it’s not very often good, and in fact it’s more than often terrible, but that’s another story, isn’t it?

The bottom line is probably to not invest on two-year-olds at all, until the Caulfield Blue Diamond on February 21. The concession I would suggest, if you must bet on them, is to seek out the ones that have “done it” and look to them to repeat the dose. But don’t simply back them haphazardly. The trick is to support them when the unraced, “unbeatable” new two-year-old appears. You won’t always collect, but I’ll tell you something, you’ll do a darned sight better than by using any other method I’ve ever seen for two-year-olds.

One more thing: if you do use this idea, keep a very strong eye on the place dividends for the topweight which has already been there and done it. Sometimes they can represent the nearest thing to a certainty (I know, there aren’t any, but this is about as near as it gets).

By The Optimist