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Monday Myths: Older Horses on the Comeback Trail

by Jeremy Plonk

March 1, 2021

Welcome to a new handicapping series for our Monday blog space entitled “Monday Myths.” Each week I’ll use the power of the Betmix database to take common handicapping assumptions and either support or dispel them with data. Betmix data powers the 1/ST BET app and its features like Angler and Birddog give data-minded horseplayers a treasure trove of information in which to query your own curiosities.


Older horses don’t perform as well after a long layoff as younger horses.


Stars Monomoy Girl and Got Stormy returned victorious from Breeders’ Cup layoffs (112-113 days) this past weekend at age 6. Were they notable exceptions to the long-prescribed theory that it takes older horses more time to race back into shape than younger ones? As most of us aging types can admit, it’s not as easy to get going the older we get. But is that statistically true with racehorses?

Data Points:

I crunched the numbers in the Betmix database for every Thoroughbred race in North America over the past 8 years, going back to Mar. 1, 2013. I looked at all starters who were away from the races for periods of 90-119 days, 120-179 days and 180-365 days. Each starter was evaluated by age, from 3 to 8.

Overall Findings:

3-year-olds off 90-119 days won 11.9%.
4-year-olds off 90-119 days won 12.1%.
5-year-olds off 90-119 days won 10.9%.
6-year-olds off 90-119 days won 10.1%.
7-year-olds off 90-119 days won 10.1%.
8-year-olds off 90-119 days won 8.2%.

3-year-olds off 120-179 days won 12.0%.
4-year-olds off 120-179 days won 11.4%.
5-year-olds off 120-179 days won 10.3%.
6-year-olds off 120-179 days won 9.1%.
7-year-olds off 120-179 days won 9.5%.
8-year-olds off 120-179 days won 8.0%.

3-year-olds off 180-365 days won 12.8%.
4-year-olds off 180-365 days won 11.9%.
5-year-olds off 180-365 days won 10.0%.
6-year-olds off 180-365 days won 8.5%.
7-year-olds off 180-365 days won 7.9%.
8-year-olds off 180-365 days won 7.7%.

Overall Findings Verdict:

In all 3 lengths of layoffs, the more a horse increased in age, the lower the win percentage in almost every single progression. A noticeable gap happened between ages 4 and 5, where the win percentages dropped 1.2%, 1.1% and 1.9% among the various layoff lengths. The gap was also significant from age 5 to 6 with the longer layoffs, 1.2% and 1.5% when you got beyond 120 days off.

The length of layoff as it pertains to age was interesting. The 3-year-olds actually won more frequently the longer the layoff (11.9% to 12.0% to 12.8%). But from age 5 on, the longer the layoff, the worse the win percentage at every level.

Bottom line:

The assumption that it’s tougher for older horses after a layoff is confirmed. The percentages consistently show that the older the horse, the tougher it is to successfully return and win following a layoff. Not only that, it gets even tougher the longer the layoff for horses who are getting up in age.

Additional Details:

You can go into Betmix and run your own queries for a deeper dive into this theory and any that you can create. For instance, take a look at the tracks you play most often to see if they fall in line with this study’s conclusions. You can sort by race class (claiming, etc.) or by purse money to see how the elders perform at the lower and upper levels. For instance, 6-year-olds in the 90-119 day layoff category in graded stakes races – like Monomoy Girl and Got Stormy this past weekend – win 18.7%, far above the 10.1% overall win rate for all their age peers at all class levels. These kind are the exceptions to the everyday rule, and remarkably so.