FORGET about what Andy Williams famously sang, this is the most wonderful time of the year. At least for racing fans anyway.

There are still multiple spring festivals on the horizon for National Hunt diehards, while flat followers are getting into stride after their Lincoln take-off. From Auguste Rodin at Meydan today, to the incoming classic trials on home soil, there really is a glut of action under both codes to savour over the coming weeks.

For some, one of the major selling points of this early window of the flat season is monitoring how the opening two-year-old maidens shape up. Which new sires are catching fire? Which juveniles are showing an ability to cope with the current rain-sodden spring ground? Which trainers have their strings in an advanced position to make hay early on?

The latter point is one fleshed out in fine detail by columnist Tony Keenan in this week’s paper (see page eight), but a broader angle worth bearing in mind for assessing two-year-old maidens is just how forward or otherwise trainers can tend to have their juveniles first time out.

While the quality of the horsepower at each trainer’s disposal is key to their fortunes, how yards bring along their two-year-olds is obviously open to change every season.

As an example, it was interesting to note Aidan O’Brien had much more success last year with his debut two-year-olds than was the case a year earlier.

O’Brien record

In 2022, the Ballydoyle maestro had 13 two-year-old winners in Ireland first time out, operating at an 18% strike rate in this category. Last year, he clicked with 22 debutants and upped his equivalent strike rate to 28%. It clearly helps when O’Brien had one of his best crops of two-year-olds ever, but plenty of the string were advanced enough to know their job at the first time of asking.

For the purpose of trying to anticipate the possible levels of improvement in two-year-olds from various systems, illustrated here is a table of how the top 12 stables in the 2023 Irish flat championship have fared with their juvenile newcomers since 2018.

These figures are for races in Ireland only. The records for second starts only refer to those running at two after being beaten on debut.

Unsurprisingly, nobody has had more first-time-out winners at two in Ireland than Aidan O’Brien (82). Ger Lyons is next in the standings on a highly respectable 48, followed by Joseph O’Brien (35) and Jessica Harrington (34). Dermot Weld completes the top five with 15 debut winners at two.

When broken down to the best strike rates with debut two-year-olds, however, a trainer who hasn’t yet been mentioned tops the charts. It’s quite the feat from Paddy Twomey to have a 20% success rate with his juvenile newcomers since 2018, notching nine winners in this debut category.

In fact, all of those winners have come in the last two years. In 2022, he had two such winners from six representatives and that improved to seven from 17 runners in 2023 - a sizzling 41% strike rate.

Lyons on target

Hot on his heels is Ger Lyons with an impressive 19% rate of debut victory, while the only three other trainers from the 2023 championship’s top dozen to make double-figure strike rates are Aidan O’Brien (17%), Donnacha O’Brien (13%) and Jessica Harrington (10%).

Of the country’s top dozen trainers who have lower strike rates with debut two-year-olds, it’s worth providing a little context.

Noel Meade, who has been enjoying a fine time with his well-sourced flat team in recent seasons, has a 4% success rate in this category since 2018, but there is a different picture to be gleaned if isolating his 2023 stats.

The former champion National Hunt trainer was 0-28 with his juvenile newcomers in 2022, yet that improved considerably to three winners from 18 runners last season - a 17% strike rate.

It can appear as though Johnny Murtagh’s two-year-olds are brought along to improve with their first experience, and the figures back that up too. The approach is reaping dividends for the progressive Curragh operation.

Since 2018, Murtagh has had three first-time-out juvenile winners from 200 such runners in Ireland (2% strike rate), but he has the biggest jump in strike rate of any of the top dozen trainers when it comes to those beaten runners appearing next time. His juveniles running second time out at two operate at a much more substantial 10% win rate.

Progressive figures

Twomey might have the top debut rate in these standings, but his strike rate with beaten debutants second-time-out is also leading the way at 31%.

Aidan O’Brien’s 17% debut record improves to 26% in the second start category, and other notable improvers are Dermot Weld (8% on debut to 16% second-time-out at two), Joseph O’Brien (8% to 15%) and Jessica Harrington (10% to 15%).

When ranking the highest strike rates with beaten juvenile debutants making their second start, Donnacha O’Brien sits in fourth on 16%, though his debut runners also caught the eye last season.

Having had two first-time-out juvenile winners in Ireland in 2022, he doubled his tally to four in 2023 and boosted his strike rate from 8.7% to 18%.

There are multiple yards that could get a favourable mention in this regard, but, given Adrian Murray and Amo Racing supplied the first two-year-old maiden winner of 2024 in Ireland, it is probably worth a brief mention of the Co Westmeath yard’s debut record.

Opening maidens

In 2023, Group 1 star Bucanero Fuerte, who landed the same opening Curragh maiden 12 months ago, was the outfit’s only debut two-year-old winner in Ireland from 14 runners. That may bode well for this year’s impressive winner of the same race for the connections, Arizona Blaze.

Murray and Amo also supplied the runner-up in the only other two-year-old maiden of the season so far at Dundalk on Tuesday, Charanda.

The useful-looking winner of that all-weather contest, Morning Vietnam, hailed from the Michael O’Callaghan ranks, and he is a trainer who features in the top five handlers in Ireland in terms of two-year-old debutant strike rates since 2018 (excluding those with less than 15 runners in that period, to ensure a fair comparison).

With the aforementioned Twomey (20%), Lyons (19%) and Aidan O’Brien (17%) leading the way on this metric, the only other trainer O’Callaghan is behind in this regard is fourth-ranked Willie Browne (17%). Browne has had significantly less two-year-old newcomers, however - just 18 in comparison to O’Callaghan’s 113 since 2018.

Weather-permitting, we’re right on the cusp of learning much more about Ireland’s juvenile class of 2024. Strap yourself in for the most wonderful time of the year.