An increasing number of racetrack programs and past performance charts now add the month and even the specific day a horse was born to the information you can use to handicap a race. In the early days of organized horse racing, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred, the exact foaling date of the participants didn’t much matter, if such information was even available. Owners and trainers picked races according to the racing quality of the competition, not the age or sex of the participants. The better the quality, the higher the possible reward in the form of purse size or reputation enhancement. But if you picked too ambitiously, your horse would be unlikely to win. As racing matured, organizers began to add events with age and sex restrictions. Picking the correct level of competition was still paramount, but in the case of age-restricted races, foaling date began to make a difference.
Today, almost all races on both the flat and under harness in which two-year-olds participate are restricted to that age group for the entire season. Races exclusively for three-year-olds are sometimes scheduled throughout the season, although often the sophomores are moved into three-and-up races after mid-summer. It’s only with two-year olds and early-season three-year-olds that exact foaling date is thought to matter at all. To be fair, age does matter with older three-year-olds (they are generally, although not always, not quite as good as older horses at the end of the racing season), but the exact day and month is not so significant.
Exactly how much the foaling date matters depends on the race, the time of the year, and the kind of horses involved. Horses of all racing breeds officially become one year old on January 1 following the year they’re foaled. This means, of course, that a horse foaled early in the calendar year will be older than one foaled later in the year even though they are officially the same age. Horses mature and change very rapidly at two and three, so even a few months can make a lot of difference in size and development.
An early birth date matters most:
- In two-year-old races early in the calendar year, the earlier the foaling the better.
- In two-year-old races later in the Thoroughbred season when races stretch out beyond six furlongs, the earlier foals may still have an advantage, although not as great.
- In two-year-old races, long-bodied rangy young horses may be at a disadvantage to shorter-bodied muscular horses unless they have a noticeably earlier birth date.
- In three-year-old races early in the year, late foals usually remain at a slight disadvantage, especially at sprint distances.
- In three-year-old races in which the young horses race a distance for the first time (i.e. Triple Crown races) the early foaling dates don’t help as much, especially if the later-foaled horse has distance conformation, with a longer neck and body and, consequently, a longer stride.
But here’s another point to consider. Mother Nature designed horse reproduction in a way to assure that new foals arrive at the most opportune time in terms of food supply and safe climate conditions. In temperate North America and Europe that usually means May, with its fresh new grass and cool days and nights. Left to their own devices, horses will often mate in June for a May foaling the next year. In commercial operations, the breeding season is pretty much done by June, because most owners want their foals to arrive as early as possible while avoiding the disastrous mistake of a December foal. So is it possible that a May foal, who seems to have a disadvantage as a two-year-old and early three-year-old, might actually be a stronger animal even if he’s a little less mature than a foal born a couple of months earlier? It is possible, and that may also be taken into consideration as you check foaling dates.
Check my website www. danpatchbook.com for the exact foaling date for one of racin's most famous horses, the great pacer Dan Patch!