When Should Thoroughbreds Start Racing?

Many Thoroughbreds start racing at 2, but Justify didn’t make his first start until he was 3 and won the Triple Crown. Does this mean we shouldn’t start racing horses until they’re older? An equine surgeon and lameness specialist weighs in.
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Although Justify didn't make his first race start until he was 3, he trained as a 2-year-old. And, research suggests that training the horse’s skeleton to race speeds at the age of two may lead to less injury than starting as an older horse. | Photo: Adam Mooshian/NYRA

Q. I know it’s common practice to start Thoroughbreds racing at 2. But Justify didn’t make his first start until he was 3 and won the Triple Crown. Does this mean we shouldn’t start racing horses until they’re older?

Tina, via e-mail

A. There are many factors which influence when a horse is started in training. These include date of birth, degree of skeletal maturity, athletic ability, as well as the preferences of the owner or trainer

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Written by:

Alan Ruggles, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, is a surgeon and partner at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky, where he specializes in orthopedic surgery and lameness. He also serves as an American Association of Equine Practitioners On-Call Spokesman. Previously he taught at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania and The Ohio State University.

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