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The youngest age at which a horse can run in Britain is two and these young horses are known as juveniles.
Every horse’s official birthday is New Year’s Day even though they are born throughout the year. This is because it would be too confusing to give each horse the actual birthday and administratively all horses age by one year on the first day of the year.
That means a juvenile race could bring together horses with an age range of several months. As horses develop quickly at this stage of their life it can be an important form factor to assess when betting on a juvenile race.
The British turf flat season runs from March to November, which means the earliest time horses aged two can run is in the third month after the official birthday.
Juvenile races are run over five furlongs at the start of the season and the race distances increase throughout the year. There are very few races for juveniles run over more than one mile because the horses are too immature to cope with anything longer.
About two thirds of juvenile races are won by horses who finished first, second or third in their previous race. Form is often reliable because horses generally run to their level and the distances are short. The horse with the best form generally wins juvenile races but betting is complicated by horses racing for the first time.
Breeding is often an indicator of a horse’s ability but they are likely to be green on the first outing. A juvenile horse with experience could beat a better-bred horse who has the potential to win races. Early season juveniles are difficult to assess as there is a shortage of collateral form.
After several months of the season juveniles run in handicaps against horses of the same age and these races are known as nurseries.