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Guide to nursery horse races

Nursery races refer to a novice race for runners that are two-year-olds, the age a horse is first allowed to compete.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Nursery races refer to a novice race for runners that are two-year-olds, the age a horse is first allowed to compete. Runners typically begin to reach their peak size and weight between the ages of two and three years.

Nursery Stakes began in the 18th century and is a method used to equalize the competition of sprinters since more mature sprinters often have a speed advantage over younger, less experienced horses.

Nursery meetings are more commonly referred to as “juvenile” races. In the U.K., these have traditionally been held at the Newmarket Racecourse as well as Doncaster Racecourse. The latter hosts the Princes of Wales’ Nursery Plate.

For punters, juvenile races offer a unique betting opportunity since most of the horses lack a track record by which to gauge their quality. Indeed, some will be making their debut. Some tipsters often specialize in providing insights specifically on two-year-olds given the lack of information.

Juveniles can also participate in Nursery Handicaps. According to the British Horseracing Authority, a horse can compete in a Nursery Handicap if it has run at least three times in a flat race in Great Britain, or it has run once and won a flat race in Great Britain and the handicapper is prepared to allot it a rating of 80 or below, or it has run twice including a win, in a flat race in Great Britain and the handicapper is prepared to allot it a rating of 85 or below.

For hurdles and jump events, juvenile races are open only to three-year-old horses if the race is in October to December, or four-year-olds only if the race is in January to April. Hurdles are usually reserved for older, more experienced horses that have developed their jumping abilities over time. Many jump horses are former flat runners.