Early Exercise and Career Length in Thoroughbred Racehorses

New research suggests that exercise early in life has a positive effect on musculoskeletal health and may have a positive impact on the future racing careers of Thoroughbreds.

The study, which was carried out at the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at New Zealand's Massey University, looked at the association of 2-year-old training milestones with career length and racing success in a sample of 4,683 Thoroughbred horses in New Zealand.

Retrospective data were obtained from the Thoroughbred foal crop born in 2001-02 and three training milestones were observed: registration with a trainer, training to assess race potential, and racing. The association of the training milestones with career length was measured by assessing the number of race starts and the number of years raced.

The research team found that horses that raced as 2-year-olds had significantly more race starts during their careers from 3-years-old onwards than those first raced as 3-year-olds or older. Horses that raced as 2-year-olds had significantly more years racing. Horses registered with a trainer, trained, or raced as 2-year-olds were more likely to have won or been placed in a race than those that achieved these milestones as 3-year-olds or older. In addition, horses that first trialled and raced as 2-year-olds had greater total earnings than those that first trialled or raced at a later age.

Jasmine Tanner, BSc, who instigated the study, concluded, "This early study indicates that horses in training or racing as 2-year-olds may have better musculoskeletal health throughout life than those first in training or racing at a later age. This could have a positive impact on their future success in racing. If this is indeed the case then it may be possible to manipulate the initiation and structure of race training to reduce the risk of such injuries in the future."

The study, "The association of two-year-old training milestones with career length and racing success in a sample of Thoroughbred horses in New Zealand," will be published in an upcoming issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online

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