A Graded Stakes Points System

January 18, 2011 by
Filed under: award, Breeders' Cup, Horse Racing 

The Super Bowl.  The World Series.  The Breeders’ Cup.

Which one doesn’t fit with the others?  The first two crown their sport’s champion.  The third just says it does.

Despite what the Breeders’ Cup markets itself as, horse racing is ill-suited to a true end-of-season championship like the Super Bowl or World Series.  The teams that win those events are champions because they’ve bested their competition through a long regular season and multiple playoff rounds before defeating an equally qualified competitor in the final game.  Horses just aren’t build for that.

Horse racing is more like professional golf or NASCAR, where individuals compete in events throughout the year and champions are determined, to a large degree, by the competitors’ cumulative performance over the year.  On the PGA Tour, for instance, players earn points based on where they finish in each week’s tournament.  The players with the most points at the end of the year advance to a playoff round that determines the champion for that year.

Horse racing could implement a similar model, where horses would earn points based on how well they perform in graded stakes races throughout the year.  This would also address another area where horse racing is lacking.  In most other sports, fans can check the standings every day to see who is in first place or how their favorite players are doing.  A definitive procedure for determining not only the champions at the end of the year, but who is leading during the year, could help hold fan interest between the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.  By establishing a direct link between graded stakes results and earning championships, every graded stakes race becomes not only more important, but more interesting.  A win isn’t just a win.  It’s also a jump up the championship leader board.

Creating a graded stakes points system is a matter of establishing the relative value of each graded stakes race.  Races open to all horses should be worth more than those restricted to fillies and mares.  Races for older horses should be worth more than those limited to two-year-olds or three-year-olds.  Route races should be worth more than sprints.

The American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) reviews all eligible races in the United States each year and designates each one a Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, or Ungraded.  That’s fine for comparing races within a racing division – it’s useful to know that a Grade 1 for two-year-olds is more important than a Grade 3 for two-year-olds, but it doesn’t tell us how it compares to a Grade 1 for older horses.  One of the tools the AGSC uses to grade races are ratings produced by the North American Rating Committee (NARC), which assigns hypothetical weights, or ratings, to every runner in a black-type stakes race each week.  These horse ratings are used to calculate a race rating, called the NARC RATE, and those NARC RATES are averaged over a five year period to create a measure of the strength of each graded stakes race in the country.

Using these five-year average NARC RATES as a guide, the table below attempts to express the relative value of graded stakes in all racing divisions to each other, with open Grade 1 route races for older horses being arbitrarily assigned 100 points.

Graded Stakes Race Values

Race Type G1 G2 G3
3up Open Dirt Route 100 65 45
3up Open Turf Route 100 65 50
3up Open Sprint 80 55 40
3up F&M Dirt Route 75 50 25
3up F&M Turf Route 80 60 45
3up F&M Sprint 70 50 30
3yo Open Dirt Route 90 55 35
3yo Open Turf Route 70 50 30
3yo Open Sprint 70 30 25
3yo Filly Dirt Route 70 45 25
3yo Filly Turf Route 65 50 35
3yo Filly Sprint 50 30 15
2yo Open Dirt Route 70 40 30
2yo Open Turf Route 70 40 25
2yo Open Sprint 50 30 20
2yo Filly Dirt Route 55 20 15
2yo Filly Turf Route 0 50 15
2yo Filly Sprint 45 30 15

Establishing the relative value of graded stakes races across the different racing divisions is a good first step, but it doesn’t mean those values truly represent the quality of this year’s running of a given race.  It will be necessary to adjust those points to better reflect the actual quality of the field in each individual race.  Ideally, I would like to rate the quality of the field based on the previous graded stakes experience of the runners.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to do that just yet, so I’m going to use secondary factors to make judgements about the race quality – purse money and field size.

One thing that has always been true is that big money will attract big horses.  The connections of Blind Luck and Havre de Grace didn’t send their fillies to the Cotillion Stakes last fall because they had their hearts set on capturing a Grade 2 in Pennsylvania.  They went because the purse was $750,000, 50% more than the highest Grade 1 purses available in races restricted to three-year-old fillies.  The Cotillion is still a Grade 2, but the purse makes it worth more than the average Grade 2 route for three-year-old fillies.  Using purse money to adjust graded stakes points is also a good way to reflect the importance of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races and several other ‘super’ Grade 1’s.

Using field size to adjust graded stakes points is a little less definitive.  While a small field can be highly competitive and a large field can be very weak, the fact remains that having fewer horses to beat makes winning a easier proposition.

Race Value Adjustments

Factor Adj
< 5 runners -20%
5 runners -10%
6 runners -5%
10 runners +5%
11 runners +5%
12+ runners +10%
Purse $500-749 +10%
Purse $750-$999 +20%
Purse $1000-1999 +30%
Purse $2000+ +50%

Now that we have an adjusted race value, we’ll distribute the adjusted race points to the win, place and show finishers using the following ratio:

Point Distribution

Win Place Show
60% 25% 15%

So what is the net result of these calculations?  Are they correct?  Well, no, probably not.  They’re arbitrary on nearly every level.  That said, I think they’re a pretty good start.  A look at the total graded stakes points for 2010 gives us a pretty reasonable Horse of the Year result.

2010 Horse of the Year

Horse Points
Blame 290
Quality Road 260
Zenyatta 256
Blind Luck 243
Lookin At Lucky 232

Check out the full 2010 Graded Stakes Leaderboard for all of the division leaders.

If you have any ideas that would improve these calculations or a different idea for creating a graded stakes points system, I’d would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I’ll keep working with what I have in the hope of refining the method until it is as accurate and useful as possible.


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