Nursery races are essentially handicaps in which only two-year-olds can take part and that an intended runner has already been assigned a rating from the handicapper. The nursery races start from July onwards when there is more is information available from a form perspective which allows the assessor (Handicapper) to allocate a mark either because an entrant has managed to have already taken part in three races or has won two races in the UK.
The handicapper usually has a more difficult job in assessing these type of horses in the early part of the season due to the fact the vast majority will have been lightly raced and in some instances, a fair amount of “educational guessing can take place”.
The job of the handicapper is to rate horses on what they have achieved not what they are capable of achieving. This does mean trainers can operate in a manner should they choose to get their horses a “favourable mark” and it is sometimes easier to disguise the actual ability of a two-year-old than an older horse as the form is likely to have less substance, in particular, and worth reiterating in the early part of the season.
The trainer will know that the handicapper has to base its rating on what his runner has achieved, not what he may do in the future, and if that’s the case then connections will be in their right to allow to run their juvenile in races over a shorter distance, knowing full well it’s unlikely to perform to its true capability but at the same time could be seen in a better light when finally stepping up in trip, something it may have not has a chance to do so until now.
I always like to use the comparison of race horses to athlete runners. An elite marathon runner may not be able to beat Usain Bolt over 100/200m but over a marathon trip of 26 miles then that situation could well change.
Of Course, it’s not just a change in distance, other factors come into play such as ground conditions. A lightly raced type juvenile may not have had the opportunity to race on a different surface until now due to weather conditions, over watering or to my earlier point by design to enable a “workable rating”.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that many juveniles need racecourse experience before they can demonstrate their true ability and as they continue to race their level of race form will become more apparent.