Circumstances make this a tough school for 3-year-olds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 3:16am

Perhaps, in a way, Happy Era being turned over in the Griffin Trophy was almost a positive result for the Jockey Club when the race was in danger of being utterly hijacked by the John Size-trained gelding.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and so is the half-hearted introduction of a bare handful of three-year-old races into the calendar.

This column has certainly touched on the tough job ahead of three-year-olds in this handicap environment, being thrown in against older, more experienced horses from the beginning in most cases.

Even if the younger horse has the natural talent to go further in the world than his rivals, that inexperience and a lack of physical and mental toughness can bring them together, especially when the younger horses get to the top of the weights. Any horse performing well at the top of a grade early in its three-year-old year can be assumed to hold some promise, if its form survives those testing early contests. It's a tough school.

The Griffin Trophy restricted to three-year-olds managed to attract some worthwhile runners - a few anyway - but the conditions left the gate open for the race to have a long odds-on favourite.

Happy Era didn't just have a full class better form history, he was only a fortnight short of being four and ineligible - another thing three-year-olds usually don't have to put up with in "age racing" elsewhere - and had he drawn a decent barrier, the race would have been the expected formality.

And it was clearly unattractive for betting, like most small fields with an obvious and dominant favourite. The first race on Sunday turned over more money, despite being two races earlier and dominated by unraced favourites, and the Class Five managed almost HK$30 million more in the race prior to the Griffin Trophy.

If this were, say, Australia or New Zealand - or most other places - a decent three-year-old would be running in Group races against horses of his own age and similar experience. Don't be too taken in by the Group tags on those races - a horse has not really made it until it produces serious form in open age and gender events - but it is a gentler ascension and can allow a horse to assemble an impressive record against its own age while it is still learning.

Three-year-olds with ability aren't afforded the same opportunity here, and the same horse is probably carrying top weight in Class Three. We have some sympathy for owners with regard to that, but we've said it before - there are only so many options that can be offered in programming 770-odd races a season.

And trying to find a place in there for age-restricted racing is a nice idea that can only ever be half-baked and unsatisfactory.