Horses are not skeletally mature until they reach four years of age. However, prize money for two-year-old racing continues to climb, making these immature horses a more profitable option, despite the huge risk of injury.
Two-year-old racehorses suffer a high rate of injury due to the thousands of kilos per square centimetre directed downward through their fine legs. They’re forced to train and race this way repeatedly at high speeds and on hard surfaces long before maturity.
Most racehorses are retired by the end of their fourth year due to injury, chronic illness or an inability to win in higher classes.
“I think there’s probably a much stronger tendency to have two year old racing nowadays than there used to be……and the lure of prize money. There’s a great incentive to race their horses too young too immature. In the old days, you bought your yearlings, you broke them in, you castrated them, you turned them out. You didn’t think about them until late 2 year old and mostly three year olds. The big money came with three-year-old racing. The current owners want two-year-old racing and I think it’s a pity. I think it’s a pity because it certainly does cause the breakdown of a lot of two year olds.”
– Percy Sykes, horse racing industry vet.