The life of a racehorse

Every year some of the best horses in the country compete in Cape Town’s J&B Met. Some of them, such as Pocket Power (J&B Met winner 2007, 2008, 2009), become legends that capture the public’s collective imagination. But what happens to horses such as Pocket Power when they retire? Trainer Candice Robinson tells you more about the life of a racehorse.

We buy horses — called yearlings — at the sale when they are a year old. Cape Town is by far the best breeding area in the country. As a trainer, there are certainly qualities that you look out for when you are at the sale. There are about 500 horses in the catalogue and you have to choose 10 and hope that they will be able to win you a race such as the J&B Met one day. For example, we would look at the general confirmation of the horse, which is made up of many factors, and then the legs — whether they are straight and correct — and then how a horse walks and uses himself, which is an indication as to how they will move on the track. Those are the basic factors, but you only really know about these things if you are in the industry.

After the sale, the horses return to the farm and then they come to our training centre at about two years of age. They all turn two in August, and around about September or October they come into the yard to start training.

Not all horses race at two years of age, but they probably start racing in April, May or June of the following year. Some of them can take up to a year before they start their careers — it all just depends on the horse. Some horses are fast and early, so you can race them early on in their careers. Others, usually those that go over longer distances, may take more time. Or a horse might be immature and then it will need time to mature before it is ready to race. So, they are all different. Some horses, those that take much longer to come to hand, will only be ready to race when they are three.

As a trainer, you will take a horse through its career. On average, a horse will probably have a career until they are about four or five years of age. You do get some, though, that will race until they are six or seven years of age.

Most of your fillies finish racing at five years of age and then the better bred fillies will go to stud and they will be used for breeding. The geldings — like Pocket Power who won the J&B Met three years in a row — generally end up in show jumping, dressage or eventing once they have finished racing. And then, obviously, you get the odd ones that are good enough that haven’t been gelded that will perhaps make a stallion, but they are few and far between.

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