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Let’s face it, buying a yearling is viewed largely as pot luck in the general scheme of things and most people think it’s a lottery. However whilst the odds of getting a Group 1 star are minimul there are things you can look for to put the odds in your favour and not play powerball.

I thought it’s worth highlighting a few areas where you can increase your chances of success by using science and some genuine common sense.

The first thing to remember is that a good horse can come from any breeding, a poor pedigree and poor confirmation and can still turn out a champ.

However the idea of this article is to get as many important factors lined up as possible and play the percentages to ensure they are in your favour. We are trying to limit the degrees of risk and we are not looking for the needle in the haystack but ideally get all our ducks lined up.

There is no right or wrong decision without hindsight and it’s why very few can put their hand up as an expert yearling judge and back it up with proven results. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts out there spending millions of others money but rarely put their own money in as they understand it’s a numbers game.

An expert is described as someone who is very knowledgeable and skilful in their area. There are plenty of knowledgeable thoroughbred people in the world but there are no skilful one’s. Skilful is someone who performs a task and constantly succeeds and gets it right. In the yearling ring, history says the world has never seen a skilful buyer, simply it doesn’t matter how much money you spend no one gets it right all the time and no one gets it right even 50% of the time. Such is the difficulty in picking fast race horses as yearlings.

Buying a yearling is a weight of numbers game in that the more you buy the more chance you have of success. That doesn’t mean that you can’t buy a fast one with just one purchase, it’s just more unlikely than likely.

However for most people they can’t afford to buy 100 horses and hope 10 of them are any good like the big trainers do and we ourselves fall into the same category. For most people who enter horse racing they want to own a city class horse. If you own a city class horse it is usually one who can pay its own way and a few lucky horses are better than that and are group horses.

Of a standard 100 horses 5 would be considered to be Group horses and another 10 on top of that would be considered to be “paying their own way types” who would be capable of winning City races, for most people it’s these that are more realistic. But it still leaves on average 85 of the 100 that can’t get out of their own way.

To help you know what to look for when buying a yearling we will highlight some of the must haves that are part of our criteria. We have developed our formula and by following these points we hope to increase your chances of success and take those odds from 15%, to hopefully over 50% of “getting a good one”.


The physical makeup of a horse is extremely important in that we want to see a few key areas of criteria met. The first is physically does the horse have any areas of concern that could affect it racing.

Areas such as front leg conformation. The front legs are taking up to the equivalent of 3 times a horse’s body weight when galloping and carry up to 65% of the horse’s weight when still. Bad confirmation is not always a sign they will break down but it is something that is a warning sign. Most trainers though will tell you that most of their best horses didn’t have perfect conformation.

I really dislike “Base Wide” horses as if you think of a British Bulldog they are generally short fat little waddlers and with this conformation we find they are generally slow horses. Pigeon toed if not too severe is something I can forgive. If you look at human elite sprinters at the Olympics a lot are pigeon toed.

The “Calf Kneed” or back of the knee types and “Buck Kneed” horses we also like to avoid as vets advise these horses constantly have tendon and knee issues largely due to the amount of pressure these legs have to absorb in high impact exercise.

Below we see the ideal confirmation of Fastnet Rock.

A horse’s leg conformation can also in most cases give you an indication to what type of distance range a horse will run.

This is one area that should be closely looked at. A horse’s legs are what helps give it the power and momentum and a horse should look what it is bred to look like. For example if a horse is bred to be a Sprinter we need to make sure biomechanically that the horse has the right physical make up to give it its best chance.

A good sprinter will be extremely muscular and have an enormous rear end which is where the power comes from and a strong shoulder and chest. It will have a very strong forearm and these levers such as the forearm, gaskin and cannon bones dictate how strong and how much power the horse is capable of outputting. Likewise a good stayer will generally be lean, much longer in the back, have longer pasterns but also have longer legs and hence they lever to cover more ground and it’s what helps them get and maintain their stamina.

Once you have a possible race horse that has been thrown to type and it looks to have good legs and the right levers for what it’s bred to do. It’s time to assess the horse’s shoulder angulation and also its main engine room which is the hind quarters and hip length. Like any engine room you want to see your fast racehorses with plenty of power behind but also in proportion to the rest of the horse.

Below is an excellent picture of what a sound and well put together horse should look like.

Physically for a horse if it has the correct levers and is well muscled and in proportion you then give yourself a better than even chance to get a horse that is capable of winning you races. However physical makeup is not the be all and end all, as if it was the richest people would always own the fastest horses.

After you’re happy with the horse as a physical specimen the next area then is pedigree.


You need to examine the pedigree to determine exactly how well bred your horse is. With so much money at stake it’s very important not to get carried away with what you perceive to be a well bred horse, actually put some homework into assessing the individual mating. 

With huge dollars being spent each year by the big studs on marketing it’s very easy to be swayed by perception. However to help put the odds in your favour you first need to determine firstly the direct parentage of your horse. The simplest and best way to determine this is firstly have a look at the DAM. 


I think it’s best to assess her first as she after all plays such a massive part not only in the raring of the horse but also she contributes a large portion of the DNA into her offspring.

Science has proven via DNA that the dam and the sire make up around 50% of the horses characteristics and then combine the grandparents’ DNA, basically that is what you are seeing and anything further back is basically not relevant.

Therefore if you find someone who tries to tell you that a horse will be fast due to some mating 6 generations back, nod your head and say thanks and quietly walk away, as science tells us this is just not true.

Now back to the Dam. I like to assess them on race ability first. We know that 95% of all sires have generally been fast racehorses otherwise they would not be at stud, however as the dam is bringing a large portion of her DNA to the offspring it stands to reason to increase your chances she should be of reasonable ability.

With the saturation of racing these days if you have a dam that raced on multiple occasions and she was not a city winner then for mine I start to lose interest. None of us want to race non winners and we all want city class horses so if the Dam was to throw herself (a large chance this could happen) then you don’t need to take this risk and better to let other people take the punt on an unproven Dam.

Even then if the Dam is a city winner it’s worth looking up her record. Did she win a midweek at a 100/1 and never win another race? Even though she is a city winner she perhaps was not really of that ability? Likewise perhaps the Dam only raced a few times and never raced in the city? In this instance it’s worth looking at where she raced and did she only have a few starts due to injury? If so was she a hot favourite, which could indicate she had ability but then broke down. Or perhaps she was unraced on the pedigree page but it’s worth looking these horses up as a lot of times they might have trialled and shown they had zero ability and hence have been hidden and sent to stud and most likely will produce more slow horses.

A good racemare as we know doesn’t always produce fast progeny but when assessing young maresI find it’s the safest way. Again there will always be freakishly slow racehorses who produce champions. The dam of Australia’s best ever two year old in DANCE HERO comes to mind but again better to let someone else experiment with these rather than risk your hard earned

For young or unproven mares I would advise to try and buy out of good class race horses. They don’t have to have won a big race or even a city race but they definitely need to have shown better than average ability and sometimes a racehorses record can look or seem much better than what it is, and on the flipside look worse than it was.

Once you have determined that the Dam had ability it’s now worth looking at her progeny to date and what they have done. One massive trap that a lot of smart people fall into is that they constantly buy great physical types and yet keep making excuses for the mare.

There were dozens of mares whose progeny average $200,000 plus but a look through these progeny records after 3-4 foals and largely they are slow or have done nothing. What this says to me is the mare is one of those good mares who throws flashy looking animals but regardless they’re just not fast horses. If a mare is proven in throwing winners, city winners or better then she deserves a big tick.


The Sire

The sire is an interesting one. You might have heard the saying “they can all get a good one” and I think this is largely true but a large portion of this is affected by what mares the horse is covering. A sire should be judged on his record. For some reason racehorses that were wet trackers only or horses who won their big race coming from last rarely are successful as sires.

I have a few theories but largely they do struggle for results on the race track with their progeny. Likewise Colonial bred and raced sires seem to be a much safer bet when assessing the merits of perhaps the lastest shuttle horse versus a local proven stallion.

When assessing your stallion its very important to draw a hard line on what you consider success or failure.

For example a stallion that stands at $5,000 might have a runners to winners strike rate at 50% whilst a sire that stands at $100,0000 might have the same strike rate and any fair minded person will tell you that the $5,000 stallion is in more likelihood a better sire or better risk as he has done it the hard way and hasn’t got all the blue blood mares.

For my own line I believe that if a commercial stallion standing at $10,000 or greater can not have a strike rate of runners to winners of at least 60% and produce a Group horse of at least 5% then they should be avoided at all costs. Remember this is a winner at any track in Australia including bush racing and if a sire can’t meet this benchmark then they are largely a high risk investment.

If you have a stallion that is running at these figures he warrants a further look. The next step then is to assess the stallion based on his sex bias. For some reason certain sires can be prone to throwing better fillies or better colts and the results will surprise you. The great Redoute’s Choice is a sensation with his fillies whereas some like High Chaparral are good enough with his colts but his fillies are not as good. As always I’m using an average and there is an exception to everything in breeding.



So there we have it, if you can firstly find yourself a nice type whose dam is either proven on the racetrack or a proven producer, with a proven sire who can get 60% runners to winners and greater than 5% Stakes winners then you can immediately reduce your odds of about 15 out of a 100 to more like 50 out of 100.

Remember it’s very hard to have a proven method and a champion horse can be bent legged and have horrible breeding.

But we feel if you follow the above approach you will get more success than most.

Whether it be one of our horses or one of our competitors if you ever need our advice or our opinion we are more than happy to provide it free of charge. Just contact us.

For those people who really like reading about science and how it can help improve your chances we highly recommend Byron Rogers for thought provoking articles. We also recommend for our statistics and information.

I hope you found this article useful – Luke Murrell



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