Unpredictable two-year-olds provide opportunities to beat favorites

July 19th, 2023

Lightly raced two-year-old Thoroughbreds rank among the most unpredictable types of horses to handicap. They’re still works in progress, and they can dramatically improve (or regress) in the span of weeks or months.

As a result, horseplayers should be careful betting on heavily favored two-year-olds, especially during the summer when early-maturing types with flashy form lines tackle tougher races. It’s not uncommon for the most dominant juveniles of the spring and early summer to falter as the year goes on.

A particularly vivid example occurred on July 15, 2023 at Saratoga in the Sanford (G3), a six-furlong sprint for two-year-olds. The overwhelming favorite at odds of 7-20 was Gold Sweep, fresh off a nine-length demolition of Belmont Park’s Tremont S. one month earlier. A repeat of Gold Sweep’s Tremont performance figured to easily land him in the Saratoga winner’s circle.

But Gold Sweep failed to replicate his Tremont form in the Sanford. He suffered a bad stumble at the start, giving up several lengths of ground as a result. And while Gold Sweep steadily advanced through the middle of the race, he came up leg-weary in the final furlong and flattened out to finish second by 2 1/4 lengths.

So who won the Sanford? To the surprise of many, it was 46-1 longshot Yo Yo Candy, the third-place finisher from the Tremont. Few bettors expected Yo Yo Candy to reverse the outcome of the Tremont, a race in which he rallied mildly to finish 10 1/4 lengths behind Gold Sweep. But Yo Yo Candy stepped forward in a big way while adding blinkers at Saratoga, tracking a quick pace from third place before taking command in the homestretch to prevail in clear-cut fashion.

It would have been difficult to predict Yo Yo Candy as the winner of the Sanford, except for the fact that—as mentioned previously—two-year-olds can improve or regress dramatically in short periods of time. The combination of Gold Sweep regressing and Yo Yo Candy improving triggered a shocking upset, and bettors who dared oppose Gold Sweep had a chance to catch big payoffs. A single bettor assembled a winning Pick 6 ticket, which included Yo Yo Candy, and the payoff was $344,811.50. Not bad, right?