What is a juvenile in horse racing?

Horse racing needs young horses to develop into future stars and this is where juvenile races come in

juvenile horse race

You might not realise it but every professional sport in the world has some form of young competition in order to develop the next generation of stars. Whether it be football, cricket or kabaddi, the education and development of elite athletes starts young.

And it’s the same in horse racing. A juvenile in horse racing is a term used for a young horse that is just starting out in the world of competitive racing – and there’s plenty to learn if you want to master the art of racing betting on juvenile horses.

Indeed, juvenile races can provide a great platform from which to place bets. And in our latest Demystifying Racing guide, Paddy Power is here to show you how to spot a juvenile race and what they’re really all about.

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What is a juvenile in horse racing?

In horse racing, ‘juvenile’ is a term used for horses that are either two years old in Flat races, or three years old in the National Hunt. The term signifies that the horses are young and inexperienced, and are racing in ‘juvenile’ races in order to develop not only their strength and speed, but also their understanding of race days.

As the age of all race horses is based on how old they are on 1 January each year, it can mean there is a wide discrepancy between ages in a juvenile race. For example, a National Hunt juvenile race taking place in mid-February could feature one horse that is actually two years and a month old, and another that is just over a year old.

Juvenile horse race Triumph Hurdle Cheltenham

The Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham is the most high-profile juvenile race (GETTY)

Why do juvenile races exist?

Juvenile races are vital to the development of race horses, just as youth football and kids’ cricket is important for improving the next generation of footballers and cricketers. They exist to showcase the best up-and-coming talents, and smart horse racing betting experts will certainly keep an eye on which juveniles are showing promise.

Juvenile races in the Flat season feature two-year-old horses as they are now ready to race and experience the roar of the grandstand, but aren’t yet physically prepared for jumps.

It is in the National Hunt season where three-year-old juvenile horses jump over hurdles, although still not the taller fences. This is to get the young horses accustomed with jumps without risking a potentially dangerous fall from vaulting a fence. When three-year-olds have proved themselves here then they might make the step up to fences.

Cheltenham Festival juvenile races

There are two juvenile races that take place during the Cheltenham Festival. The first is the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, which is a Premier Handicap race run on the Old Course over 2 miles and 1/2 furlong. The 2023 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle takes place at 4:50pm on Tuesday 14 March.

The second is the Triumph Hurdle, which is the biggest juvenile race on the National Hunt calendar and one of the most respected in the world, let alone at Cheltenham. Some of racing’s most iconic horses have gone on to further glory after winning the Triumph Hurdle, such as Tiger Roll (2014), Zarkandar (2011) and Commanche Court (1997).

The 2023 Triumph Hurdle takes place at 1:30pm on Friday 17 March, and is the first race of Gold Cup Day.

The 2022 Cheltenham Festival saw horse Brazil win the Juvenile Handicap at odds of 10/1, and Vauban win the Triumph.

Betting on juvenile races

Placing bets on juvenile horses can be tricky, as you’re unlikely to discover much in the way of form. In fact, sometimes you will be betting on a horse’s first ever race. If you want to bet on juveniles, keep a keen eye on each race card and look at who the trainers and owners are. This could give you a better indication of which horses are more likely to succeed.


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