It’s easy to think of horses as full-formed beings, taking to the track and naturally jumping over fences and other obstacles without a care in the world. The reality, of course, is significantly different. All animals need to learn certain behaviour, with horses being no exception. They can’t just go into a tough race like the Gold Cup without doing so.
Juvenile races are a chance for younger horses to learn their trade and find out what is expected of them. It’s slightly different when it comes to flat racing and jump racing, for the simple reason that flat racing horses start their competitive life at a younger age than jump racing ones, so the rules on juvenile races differ too. Here’s a look at how it works.
Juvenile Races At The Cheltenham Festival
Juvenile Races At Other Cheltenham Meetings
Juvenile Races Explained
A juvenile horse in flat racing is one that is two years old. Horses all turn a year older on the 1st of January each year, irrespective of when they were actually born. This means that a race featuring juveniles can actually have horses in it of entirely different ages even though they’re technically both two-year-olds when it comes to their official racing age.
In the world of jump racing a juvenile horse is one that is three-years-old, proving the difference between racing on the flat and over jumps in terms of the age of the horses taking part. It is the age of the horses that is the dictating factor as to whether or not a race is for juveniles or not, with horses older than three at the season’s start not able to take part in juvenile National Hunt races.
Obviously the fact that they’re younger horses means that they’ll be inexperienced over jumps, so the courses that they tend to run are usually on the easier side. They will be hurdle races, with steeplechases saved until much later in a horse’s career. They still get rated from their races, though, with the best looking juveniles given the highest ratings.
Rules For Juvenile Races
There are no specific rules for juvenile hurdle races other than the races are limited to horses of the same age. That means that juvenile National Hunt races are restricted to horse aged three only. This is so that inexperienced horses can get to grips with the life of competitive racing alongside similarly inexperienced competitors.
It’s a crucial stage in a horse’s development because it’s when they’re finding their feet – quite literally. They’re leaning what it’s like to run alongside other horses in a competitive environment, jumping at the same time as them as being guided by their jockey to time their race to perfection in order to conserve energy for use at the crucial time.
Whilst horses can obviously gain a reputation for themselves later in life, their period as a juvenile is when the racing world will be watching to see if they can handle the pressures of the National Hunt. Some juveniles will already have learned how to take part in racing on the flat, but the added complication of doing it over jumps can make a big difference to their ability.
There are different race types for juveniles, which are as follows:
- Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
- Selling Race – Juvenile Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle
- Juvenile Grade 1 Weight-For-Age Hurdle
- Juvenile Grade 2 Weight-For-Age Hurdle
- Juvenile Listed Hurdle
- Juvenile Weight-For-Age Hurdle
- Maiden Juvenile Weight-For-Age Hurdle
- Juvenile Listed Weight-For-Age Hurdle
- Juvenile Claiming Weight-For-Age Hurdle
New Juvenile Races
In 2016 the British Horseracing Authority decided to introduce a new group of juvenile races. The idea to do so came on the back of a Jump Racing Review, in which concerns were raised about the support offered to juvenile hurdlers. The decision was taken to add four new high value jump races specifically for horses that had not taken part in more than one hurdle race.
It was hoped that horses that had enjoyed a flat career could then enter a pathway into jump racing. The idea was to add the new high value races alongside the Black Type races that already existed. The BHA’s desire was for jump racing connections to look for juvenile hurdlers at the sales as well as for flat racing owners to think about hurdling as an option.
It was largely around the fact that there was perceived to be a shortage of jump racers taking part in juvenile races. The factors as to why this was thought to be the case included the cost of purchasing flat racing horses that were thought to be good candidates for jump racing, as well as the increase in all-weather races and the associated prize money prolonging flat racing careers.
The BHA Development Fund was used to offer £80,000 towards Juvenile Handicap Hurdles prior to 2016, but that year another £80,000 was added to put towards Juvenile Handicap Hurdles run at Newcastle, Sandown, Musselburgh and Kempton. The split of the new money was £20,000 per race, with horses that had already run in more than one race over hurdles unable to enter.
The exact nature of races for juveniles will change from course to course, depending on the sort of horses that they’re looking for. The Juvenile Handicap Hurdle takes place during the Cheltenham Festival each year, for example, and is open to horses aged four. It is held on the Wednesday of Festival week, after the Cross Country Chase and before the Champion Bumper.
It is registered as the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, with different sponsors putting their name on the race over the years. Run over 2 miles and 87 yards, it features eight hurdles and is a Grade 3 offering. Named in honour of Fred Winter, who was both a jockey and a National Hunt trainer, it was introduced to the Festival in 2005.
The Fred Winter is a good example of a juvenile National Hunt race but is far from the only one. Here’s a look at some of the other ones to give you an idea of the sort of race that you can expect to watch if you’re on a course when a juvenile offering is taking place:
Finale Juvenile Hurdle
Run at Chepstow, this Grade 1 race is for horses aged three and takes place over 2 miles, 11 yards. It features 8 hurdles. It’s scheduled to be part of the Welsh Grand National meeting in December and if it is postponed it becomes a race for four-year-olds when it’s run in January.
Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle
A Grade 1 race run at Aintree during the Grand National meeting in April, it is for four-year-olds and is run over 2 miles and 1 furlong. There are nine hurdles to be negotiated during its running.
Another Grade 1 race run during the Cheltenham Festival, the Triumph Hurdle is another one limited to four-year-old juveniles. As with the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices‘ Hurdle, its distance is 2 miles and 1 furlong. It has one fewer jump, but is considered to be the most prestigious event for juveniles run during the National Hunt calendar.
Prestbury Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle
The Prestbury Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle is also ran at Cheltenham Racecourse, but it’s usually in November. It is for three-year-olds and is run over 2 miles and half a furlong. With eight hurdles for the competitors to manage, it was promoted to Grade 2 in 2004.
There’s a weight limit of 10 stone 12 pounds on the race, with fillies and mares given 7 pounds. Winners of a Class 1 Weight-For-Age hurdle race take a 5 pound penalty, whilst winners of Class 2 Weight-For-Age hurdles or Class 1 handicap hurdles take a 3 pound penalty.
Summit Juvenile Hurdle
A race run at Doncaster in December each year, it’s for horses aged three and takes place over 2 miles and half a furlong. There are eight hurdles to be jumped over the running, which was moved from Lingfield Park to Doncaster in 2010.
Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle
This Grade 2 race is for horses aged four and is run over 2 miles and 1 furlong. There are eight hurdles to be jumped and the race takes place at Cheltenham in January.
At the time of writing it is sponsored by JCB, making its name of the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle making it sound like other races run at Cheltenham at other times of the year.
Adonis Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle
A race that takes place at Kempton Park in February, it’s for horses aged four. 2 miles in length and featuring eight hurdles during that distance, the race is considered to be one of the main trials for the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Junior Jumpers Fillies’ Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham offers more jump racing juvenile races than any other racecourse, with this one taking place every April and open to four-year-olds. There are eight hurdles to jump during the 2 miles and 1 furlong of Grade 3 event.
Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle
Haydock Park plays host to this 1 mile, 7 and a half furlong race that features nine obstacles. It’s for horses aged four and takes place in February each year.
You can see from looking at these races that juvenile hurdles are for horses that were three at the start of the season, meaning that they’re four when races from January onwards come around. The majority of races are 2 miles and 1 furlong in length, showing that juvenile races tend not to push their competitors too far in terms of distance.
Most of the races also feature eight hurdles, so it’s easy to figure out what the test is for the horses taking part. They’re being asked to manage a combination of a relatively short run out combined with a minimum number of fences so they can get into the habit of running and jumping during a reasonably short course.