08/11/2010 5:19PM

The Demise Of 2-Year-Old Racing


We're starting to get some 2-year-old racing now. Finally. Saturday's straight maiden race for juveniles at Saratoga (the one that isn't for New York breds) looks at first glance like it might be a very hot race, and we are seeing 2-year-old stakes races now with a bit more frequency. Still, 2-year-old racing isn't anything like it used to be in the true glory days of this sport.

I'm writing this on the afternoon of Aug. 11, and it ocurred to me that by this point, some of the greatest horses this sport has ever seen had by this date already made themselves familiar to fans as 2-year-olds thanks to how often they raced. This is certainly no scientific study, but it strikes me as interesting that by Aug. 11 in their respective 2-year-old seasons, Affirmed had started four times, Buckpasser had started seven times, Citation had started five times, Equipoise had started 10 times, John Henry had started five times, Man o' War had started six times, Round Table had started seven times, Ruffian had started four times, Secretariat had started three times, Shuvee had started five times, Swaps had started five times, Whirlaway had started eight times, and - hold on to your hat - Seabiscuit had started 23 times.

Maybe the next addition to this list has already started this year at 2. We don't know. But we can say that if the next Hall of Famer has already begun his or her juvenile career, he or she certainly hasn't started four times, or eight times, and might never make 23 starts total. And I can't help but wonder if there isn't some sort of connection between a sport that has been desperate for a genuine, true superhorse through the 1980's after Spectacular Bid, the 1990's, and the 2000's (hold your fire, Zenyatta fans), and the drastic contraction of early and mid-season 2-year-old racing.