What is a ‘nursery’?
In horse racing parlance, ‘nursery’ is short for ‘nursery handicap’ and describes a handicap race run on the Flat and restricted to two-year-old or ‘juvenile’ horses. To be eligible to run in a nursery handicap, a two-year-old must have run at least three times in Flat races in Britain or Ireland, or run twice, having won its first race.
In common with older horses, the official handicap ratings assigned to two-year-olds by the team of handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) are based on performances on the racecourse. Thus, nurseries do not appear on the British racing calendar until mid-summer, typically July, so that the handicappers have a stockpile of form on which to base their assessments.
Hundreds of nurseries are run throughout Britain and Ireland in the second half of the Flat season. Such races are hugely popular with trainers, often resulting in large fields and competitive betting heats. The most valuable nurseries on either side of the Irish Sea include the Sky Bet Nursery Handicap and Sky Bet EBF Stallions Nursery Handicap, both staged during the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’ at York in August, and the Tally-Ho Irish EBF Birdcatcher Premier Nursery, staged at Naas in November.