BHA announces major enhancements to two-year-old programme 

06 Feb 2017 Racing/Fixtures

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), with the unanimous support of the Racing Group, has today announced a major package of enhancements to improve the two-year-old programme for 2017 and beyond.

The enhancements build upon a successful trial in 2016 which saw the significant majority (80 per cent) of maiden races converted to novice contests between the start of the flat turf season and the beginning of July.

The 2016 trial sought to address a long-held concern that two-year-olds who win in the early part of the season, prior to the introduction of nursery handicaps, have very few opportunities to develop after their early season success.

Following a review by the Racing Group, significant support from many trainers and encouraging data, the BHA has approved a proposal that the trial should now be rolled out for the full flat season.

In the period of the trial in 2016, 75 previous winners ran again, compared to just 35 in 2015. Of those 75 winners, 27 per cent won a further race in this period, which is comparable to 23 per cent in 2015. The number of individual winners through the period remained stable, decreasing only marginally from 759 to 751. Novice and maiden races were made more competitive as a result and average field sizes in novice races rose from 5.08 to 7.84.

As a result, a further 442 maiden races (82 per cent of maiden races) from July to the end of the season have been converted to novice contests.

Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer for the BHA, said:

“We were very encouraged by the success of the trial in 2016 and the feedback we received from many horsemen. That feedback included a clear consensus that, as part of a wider package of measures, the trial would be even more effective if it was extended to the full year.

“The conversion of maiden races to novices provided more opportunities for two-year-olds and improved field sizes without any impact on the competitiveness of races. We are delighted that these proposals received unanimous support from the Racing Group. We will continue to closely monitor the impact of the extension of the trial in 2017, and to consult with horsemen.”

The extension of the Novice race programme has also allowed the BHA to make changes to the criteria by which two-year-old horses will qualify for a handicap mark, which will support field sizes in the novice programme and remove the difficulties and uncertainty of handicapping lightly-raced winners, who data shows clearly overperform in nursery races.

Under the changes, two-year-olds will now need to run at least three times in a flat race, or win twice, before being allocated a handicap mark and the ability to run in a nursery handicap.

Further changes include that two-year-old handicap ratings will be published prior to the beginning of programme of nursery handicaps in July and the current Rule that prevents a once-raced winner rated 81 or above, or a twice raced winner rated 86 or above from running in a handicap has also been removed.

Richard Wayman added:

“The extension of the novice programme means that lightly-raced winners will now have plenty of opportunities without having to run in handicaps, and the revised qualifying criteria will mean that handicappers would have more evidence to accurately assess and rate two-year-olds, thereby reducing the risk of a lightly raced horse being significantly under or overrated. There will also be greater transparency by publishing handicap ratings before the first nurseries are staged at the beginning of July.

BHA Deputy Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill added:

“We appreciate that trainers and owners will often want a mark to be allocated to their horses as soon as possible. However, it is our job to uphold the integrity of handicaps by trying to ensure that horses are entered off a fair mark. This hasn’t always been easy as we have had to allocate marks to two-year-olds on the basis of limited evidence. The more evidence that we have upon which to base these decisions, the better in the long run for all owners, trainers, and – in particular – the betting public, and the sport’s image and reputation as a whole. In addition the process of allocating a mark to two-year-olds has now been simplified, which should benefit all parties.”

The BHA has planned an increase of 50 per cent in the share of auction races within the two-year-old novice and maiden programme. This is due to concerns raised by trainers that the lack of opportunities was forcing them to run horses in open company where they were struggling to compete. This will be achieved by converting some existing open maiden and open novice, as well as median auction races, into auction races.

Finally, the package of improvements will include introducing an auction cap in median auction races and, as part of a rebalancing of the programme, increasing opportunities at 7 furlongs and 8 furlongs in the autumn with a corresponding reduction in races over sprint distances.

Richard Wayman concluded:

“The significant package of changes we have published today represent another step in the longer-term project to overhaul and improve the two-year-old programme. There is more work to be done but we will continue to make improvements where they are supported by evidence and the views of our participants.”

Trainer Ralph Beckett added:

“The extension of this trial to cover the whole two-year-old programme is an obvious step based on its success in 2016.

“The Nursery handicapping changes should make it transparent for all involved, enable the handicappers to assess horses accurately, and hence benefit horsemen, whilst the increased number of Auction races is based on statistical analysis in order to make best use of the horse population, and give opportunities for all.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Data and feedback from the 2016 trial of conversion of maiden races to novice races can be found here:

2. Data illustrating the overperformance of once-raced winners in nursery handicaps:

Year Horses Wins Strike rate % Avg % of rivals beaten Impact Value*
2012 24 4 16.7% 56.0% 1.44
2013 29 6 20.7% 57.1% 1.60
2014 25 8 32.0% 62.1% 2.67
2015 28 5 17.9% 51.9% 1.36
2016 21 5 23.8% 56.4% 1.70

*ratio of winners to expected winners. Values >1 indicate over achievement.

3. Graph illustrating the change in balance of novice/maiden programme

Two-year-old races balance


4. Membership of the BHA’s committees, including the Racing Group, can be found here: