17.06.2014, Royal Ascot, GB, Kingman beats Night of Thunder in the St James's Palace Stakes. Photo FRANK SORGE/Racingfotos.com

Two-Year-Old Runners on Debut: Part 1

Two-year-old (2yo) races on the flat are a bit ‘marmite’ – some people really focus on them, others avoid them like the plague, writes Dave Renham. The issue with 2yo, also called juvenile, races is often lack of form / information. This is especially the case when it comes to a 2yo making its racecourse debut.

In this article I wrote last year I looked at some basic trainer data for 2yo debutants, but did not go into any real detail. What follows is first of two parts where I will expand upon these initial findings by looking at many other areas, as well as updating any figures from that 2022 piece.

I have gathered data for UK flat racing for six complete years from 2017 to 2022 and this includes turf and all weather. I have calculated profit and loss to Betfair SP (BSP for short), with commission of 5% taken into account. [If you have a 2% Betfair account, keep that in mind with the quoted figures]

Market Factors with 2yo Debutants

Let me begin by looking at the performance of 2yo debutants by price. The prices shown are Industry SPs because they fit to a more uniform price pattern – profits / losses / returns are to BSP as previously started:

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As we can see, the shortest priced 2yo debutants have been very poor value – those priced evens or shorter would have lost you nearly 20 pence for every £1 staked. There has been better value in bigger priced horses – those priced 15/2 or bigger. It is interesting that the 15/2 to 9/1 bracket has provided five winning years out of six; likewise five out of six winning years for the 10/1 to 14/1 bracket also. The two biggest price brackets proved much more volatile as you would expect with some big winning years and some years with heavy losses.

Now we know using ‘starting price’ as a basis for a bet is not perfectly possible as we do not know the SP or BSPs until after the ‘off’. However, if betting late we can at least get very close to betting at the desired price.

 

Top three in the betting

Sticking with market factors, I want to do a little bit of digging into debutants who start in the top three of the betting. From the price data we have seen so far it seems unlikely that we will find many profitable avenues. However, as with all stats busting, it is not just positive angles that are useful to find; finding negative stats is equally worthwhile as horses that are avoided due to these adverse findings will certainly aid our bottom line come the end of the year.

I want to share two specific areas in terms of 2yo debutants who were in the top three in the betting. Firstly let's review some course data. I have only included courses that had at least 100 qualifiers. The table is ordered by strike rate:

 

 

There is quite a difference between the ‘top’ course, Yarmouth, and the ‘bottom’ one, Sandown, in terms of strike rate, returns and A/E indices. Both courses have similar field sizes and in general it is a fair comparison. Now Yarmouth traditionally has been a course that some of the top trainers target with their juveniles. I am not sure if that is why debutants from the top three in the betting have done well there; however, it is always worth checking course stats in conjunction with other factors to see if we can gain any edge.

Of course, this subset of data is reporting on the last six seasons only so, with course stats, I often back check a different subset of data to see if results correlate. When I went back further and looked at the previous six years (2011 to 2016) I noted that four of the top five courses - Yarmouth, Nottingham, Leicester and Doncaster - all had virtually identical strike rates and A/E indices. Therefore I would hope and expect that similar results will occur this year and in the near future, at these four courses at least.

The second area I want to look at is time of year. The graph below shows the monthly breakdown of the performance of 2yo debutants in terms of A/E indices, when in the top three of the betting. I could have equally shared strike rate data as that correlated showing the same pattern.

 

 

The value in these runners clearly lies in April and May. In fact this cohort made a profit in both months, with May showing solid BSP returns of 13 pence in the £. Therefore if you are looking to back horses near the top of the betting April and May seem to be the months to focus on. In contrast June and July have seen very poor results. The A/E index for ALL 2yo runners in ALL races is 0.89 which gives you a useful figure for comparison purposes.

In general though, my personal market advice if using price as a guide, is that there is more likely to be value in those horses that are around the 15/2 mark or bigger. Hence, I would not be put off bigger priced runners, especially if I had other valid reasons for betting the horse. Of course these animals will have a low strike rate, even if they are ‘good value’, so it is not a strategy for the short term or the faint-hearted.

 

Gender of horse with 2yo Debutants

I always look at this factor when I research anything racing wise. Males as we know outperform females from a strike rate perspective across all race ages / types etc. That does not always mean that you should prefer male runners over female runners as prices will compensate for the general strike rate differential. If we compare ALL 2yo runners in the past six seasons (not just debutants), we will see that males had a win strike rate of 12.05%, females at 9.61%. Let us look at the 2yo debutant figures now:

 

 

The strike rates have narrowed, but there is a chasm between the two in terms of returns. Why is this the case? The simple answer is that most of the really big priced debutant winners have been male over the past six seasons. Is this likely to continue in the future? Well, there’s the million dollar question. My guess is ‘not’ for two reasons. Firstly I cannot find a logical reason to explain why males have had more big priced winners in this time frame. Secondly I did back check a previous six year period (2011 to 2016) and for this series of results females actually came out as the profitable sex. Sometimes we have to accept that there is no pattern or edge to be truly found regardless of what the raw profit and loss figures indicate. The relatively lowly A/E number is a strong reminder to 'proceed with caution'.

 

Sires of 2yo Debutants

Onto sires (fathers of the horses) next. Here are top ten performing sires in terms of win strike for 2yos on their debut (minimum 100 runs):

 

 

What is useful about this specific sire data, is that each horse has just run once. Sometimes sire stats can be skewed when horses rack up multiple wins; this is not the case here.

For those of you who have read my sire articles before, most of these stallions will be very familiar to you – Shamardal, Kingman, Dubawi, Frankel are ‘regulars’ when it comes to good win records. Unfortunately, Shamardal won’t be having any 2yo debutants this year or indeed in any future year as he sadly passed away in 2020.

Of course win strike rate is not the only statistical ‘measure’ we are interested in. A/E indices, which we looked at earlier, are another measure I like to analyse where possible. The graph below shows the sires with A/E indices above the magic 1.00 figure:

 

 

It is good to see four sires appearing for the second time – Night of Thunder, Lope De Vega, Mehmas and Kingman were all in the win SR% top ten. These four in particular are worth close scrutiny this season when a 2yo debutant is sired by one of them.

Looking in more depth at Kingman, we can see that there has been excellent consistency year by year. Here are his 2yo debutant win strike rates split by year:

 

 

His first season as a sire with runners on the track was 2018 so there is no data for 2017. The strike rates show good correlation, which is unusual for sire stats, especially debutant sire stats. One would hope to see Kingman hit the 20%+ mark once again in 2023.

Before moving on from Kingman, it should be noted that his record with these runners is better over ‘further’. Generally his 2yo debutants perform better at 7f or further compared to the sprint distances of 5 and 6f. This is actually the case when you look at all of his 2yo runners as a whole.

Dubawi is a sire who has scored slightly better than one win in every six on 2yo debut, but overall would have lost you 21p for every £1 bet. However, sticking to debutants at races of 1 mile or more, we could have secured a profit of 13p in the £ thanks in part to a healthy strike rate of 21.2% (25 wins from 118).

We know that for all the positive angles we come across there are bad stats too. Indeed, there are typically more bad ones than good ones. Thus it makes sense to look at sires with the poorest records over the past six seasons. Below are those sires who have the lowest win strike rate percentages with 2yos on debut:

 

 

Not only do they have low win percentages, but the A/E values are very poor (Adaay excluded). I would not be keen on backing a 2yo on debut if sired by one of these ten. Combining these sires in one group, and excluding any horse that started favourite, their collective record reads just 39 wins from 1285 runs (SR 3.0%) for a loss to BSP of £644.27 (ROI -50.4%).

 

Damsires of 2yo Debutants

Damsires are the final port of call for this first article. Damsires are the sires (fathers) of the dams (mothers) of the respective horses. The grandfather on the female side as it were – sometimes known as maternal grandsires. Here are the records of all damsires who have had at least 100 2yo debut runners (minimum win strike rate 10%):

 

 

There are a fair few in ‘the black’ but, as we know, most of these profits are likely to be down to a big priced winner or two. However, any 2yo making its racecourse bow whose damsire has an A/E index above 1 is worth keeping an eye out for. Nine of the damsires in the table have achieved that – Dark Angel, Sea the Stars, Marju, New Approach, Galileo, Teofilo, Iffraaj, High Chaparral and Barathea.

Galileo has been the damsire of nearly 450 2yo debutants in the past six seasons and it is worth noting that there is a fairly significant difference in strike rates with turf runners versus all weather runners:

 

The turf strike rate is about two-thirds better than his all-weather win percentage, and there is a clear difference in A/E indices as well. Do not be fooled by the profit figures, however; these have been heavily skewed by two of the all weather winners which were priced at 130.0 and 41.61.

As I did with the sire data, it is worth sharing the poorer strike rates as well – below are those damsires with a strike rate below 6%:

 

 

It is perhaps best to avoid these damsires, although I did find some interesting data regarding Oasis Dream when it came to distance stats, as the graph below shows:

 

 

Clearly for this damsire, what distance the 2yo debutant is running over makes quite a difference. At the minimum distance, the 10.1% strike rate is actually above the average figure for all damsires. Obviously the 7f and 1m+ figures are way below the average. Hence any Oasis Dream debut runner over 5f should not be immediately dismissed from calculations. Whereas I think you can safely draw a line through most such runners trying 7f or more. Going the extra mile in terms of research will occasionally bring some greater insight that has the potential to keep us ahead of the crowd.

 

MAIN TAKEWAYS

  1. Very short priced debutants (evens or shorter) have been poor value.
  2. Horses from the top three of the betting have done well in April and May. In contrast these runners have performed poorly in June and July.
  3. In general horses priced 15/2 or bigger are likely to prove better value than shorter priced runners.
  4. 2yo debutants sired by Night of Thunder, Lope De Vega, Mehmas and Kingman should be seen as a positive.
  5. Sire Kingman has been extremely consistent and it is worth noting he has a better record at 7f or more.
  6. Adaay, Australia, Bated Breath, Holy Roman Emperor, Helmet, Zebedee, Poets Voice, Twilight Son, Equiano and Heeraat are sires to avoid. This is especially true if the relevant juvenile debut offspring are not favourite.
  7. Damsires Dark Angel, Sea the Stars, Marju, New Approach, Galileo, Teofilo, Iffraaj, High Chaparral and Barathea have all offered some value in the past six seasons in terms of 2yo debut runners.

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In the second and final part of this juvenile debut series, the focus will be on trainers. Until then...

- DR

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4 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    A very interesting and useful article. My one critique is regarding gender. I think you would find a big difference in performance between colts and geldings. Colts are a much better bet as they tend to be much more expensively bred/bought with hopes for a career at stud in due course. A horse that is gelded before it even makes its debut is already showing signs of temperament, and/or likely no better than a low grade handicapper in terms of ability.

    I’m not currently a member of Geegeez so can’t recall if the query tool allows for filtering colts and geldings, but I know from another website I used several years ago, 2 year old colts were better than fillies and both were much better than geldings.

    • Dave Renham
      Dave Renham says:

      Craig – as far a 2yos are concerned the vast majority of male debutants are colts
      (roughly 80%) rather than geldings. However, you are spot on as on debut, colts have won 2.9 times more often as geldings. In terms of returns to BSP though, geldings have outstripped colts by 47p in the £ compared to 11p. However, geldings will have generally started bigger prices due to some of the reasons you mentioned. thanks
      Dave

  2. mosse96
    mosse96 says:

    One of the only things that’s missing from this excellent site (unless I’m blind) is the foaling date or month. At this time of season it’s really important. Are the any pans to introduce this?
    Great article, and therer IS money to be made

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi mosse

      Yes, I agree it would be very helpful. We might be able to add that – I’ll check in with our devs.

      Matt

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