Effect of Early Exercise on Racing Success

Thoroughbred racehorses in New Zealand usually begin their training as two or three year olds. Different trainers use different methods to prepare their horses, with those in the North favouring starting their horses earlier in race trials than those in the Central Districts, read more about the survey of North Island trainers Bloodline 09 (3,891 KB) . Another survey of 75 stud farms which presented yearlings at the 2008 Karaka sales showed that giving exercise, specifically hand walking, was a common management practice during yearling preparation, read more about the stud farm survey NZTBA Bulletin (1,333 KB) .

About half of all two-year-old Thoroughbreds progress through their training programme without any breaks in training (spells) whilst the other half have spells which increase the time to starting their first trial or race. This study is looking at the reasons for these spells by following the progress of the yearlings that were previously surveyed. These horses will be monitored during their training as two-year-olds to find out if there is a relationship between the amount and type of exercise they were given as yearlings, how well they cope with their training and how successful they eventually become once they begin training.


A cohort study conducted on stud farms, during the 2009 sales preparations, collected daily exercise information for over 300 yearlings. Results showed that colts performed more exercise on average than fillies, and there was a large variation in average exercise between farms and with each month of the sales preparation: September through to January. The same yearlings were followed into training as 2-year-olds and information on their training programmes were recorded for the whole racing season. The most common reasons for breaks from training were based on a trainers’ decision (voluntary) compared to a health problem that forced the horse to spell (involuntary). Overall, the results showed a relationship between the total amount of hand walking and mechanical walker exercise accumulated during yearling preparation and whether a horse had a voluntary or involuntary break from training, between starting training and entering a trial. These results showed there was a relationship between the exercise accumulated during sales preparation and a measure of training performance. The results of this project have been published in peer-reviewed journals and a doctoral thesis.


Want to know more?

Contact Charlotte Bolwell for more information on this project which is co-supervised by Elwyn Firth, Nigel French and Chris Rogers.

Project Support

This work is funded by the New Zealand Racing Board.

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