Last year at this time I proposed a Graded Stakes Point System to measure and rank racing accomplishments throughout the year and to use those rankings to determine the division champions at the end of the year. Now that the finalists for the Eclipse Awards have been announced, let’s see how my system compares to the selections of the intelligentsia at the DRF, NTRA, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association.
The Eclipse Award finalists are listed alphabetically. The Graded Stakes Point System top three are listed in order of preference, top pick first.
Graded Stakes Point System: Acclamation, Game On Dude, Cape Blanco
Eclipse Award Voters: Acclamation, Game On Dude, Tizway
Comment: We agree on two of these, the difference being Tizway over Cape Blanco. I suspect some voters won’t consider a pure turf horses for this award, since there is a specific Turf Male award, but that doesn’t explain Acclamation who ran five of his seven races on grass this year. Even if that was the case, I would have gone with Flat Out over Tizway, who only raced four times.
GSPS: Havre de Grace, Never Retreat, Dubawi Heights
EAV: Awesome Maria, Blind Luck, Havre De Grace
Comment: We only agree on Havre De Grace here. Awesome Maria did win all four of her starts this year, all graded stakes, but the first two were Grade 3’s and the last two, a Grade 1 and a Grade 2, were both five horse fields. That doesn’t generate many points in my system. After Havre De Grace, in my system, are two turf specialists (Never Retreat and Dubawi Heights) and a sprinter (Hilda’s Passion) who may not have been considered here due to being selected for awards in other divisions. The next two in my rankings are Switch, who only won one graded stakes this year, and Blind Luck, who only competed in one Grade 1 before easing in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret. I think the turfers had better years.
GSPS: Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty
EAV: Animal Kingdom, Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford
Comment: We agree on two of the three, with the difference being the Eclipse voters choosing Kentucky Derby winner (and Preakness runner-up) Animal Kingdom, who didn’t race again after finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes, over Stay Thirsty who raced all year, winning the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. I think Caleb’s Posse’s four graded stakes wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, should prevail in a sophomore class that failed to otherwise distinguish itself in 2011.
GSPS: Royal Delta, Zazu, It’s Tricky
EAV: It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, Royal Delta
Comment: Again we agree on two of three, but I really think the Eclipse voters got this one wrong by picking Plum Pretty over Zazu. Plum Pretty raced nine times in 2011, winning two graded stakes, but never faced older runners until her fifth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. (Granted, those were two huge wins – the $1,000,000 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the $750,000 Cotillion Stakes (G2).) However, Zazu beat Plum Pretty twice in 2011, only losing to her in the Kentucky Oaks, and beat older runners winning the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret.
GSPS: Union Rags, Creative Cause, Hansen
EAV: Creative Cause, Hansen, Union Rags
Comment: We agree on all three.
GSPS: My Miss Aurelia, Stephanie’s Kitten, Weemissfrankie
EAV: Grace Hall, My Miss Aurelia, Stephanie’s Kitten
Comment: Agreement again on two of three selections, with the difference being voters presumably selecting Spinaway Stakes (G1) winner Grace Hall over two-time Grade 1 winner Weemissfrankie on the strength of Grace Hall finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies, six lengths ahead of Weemissfrankie.
GSPS: Cape Blanco, Get Stormy, Acclamation
EAV: Acclamation, Cape Blanco, St Nicholas Abbey
Comment: With three important Grade 1 wins on the year, Cape Blanco should win this award easily, so I guess it doesn’t really matter who the other two finalists are. Philosophically, however, I do have a problem with voting for a horse who only raced once in this country, even if that one race was a win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. I’m curious if some voters automatically vote for the winners of Breeders’ Cup races, regardless of what went on during the rest of the year. I’d rather see horses that race in the U. S. all year be rewarded.
GSPS: Never Retreat, Dubawi Heights, Stacelita
EAV: Dubawi Heights, Perfect Shirl, Stacelita
Comment: Another agreement on two of the three picks and another seemingly lazy selection by the Eclipse Award voters (see also: St Nicholas Abbey above). Perfect Shirl won only one race in 2011, but that one win happened to be in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She had not even run in another Grade 1 race this year. Why bother racing all year if the Breeders’ Cup races are the only ones that matter? (That’s a rhetorical question. Please don’t take it as a suggestion.)
GSPS: Amazombie, Smiling Tiger, The Factor
EAV: Amazombie, Caleb’s Posse, Regally Ready
Comment: While we agree on Amazombie, who probably wins this award easily, I’m not sure how Eclipse voters could justify ignoring both Smiling Tiger and The Factor in favor of the turf sprinter Regally Ready. As for Caleb’s Posse, the only way to include him here is by treating the one turn Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as a sprint. Don’t get me wrong, Caleb’s Posse had a great year, and is my pick for the Three-year-old Male award, but only two of his graded stakes wins were true sprints and neither of those were against older horses. Both Smiling Tiger and The Factor won more graded sprints and also beat older horses at least once.
GSPS: Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, Sassy Image
EAV: Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, Sassy Image
Comment: We agree on all three.
GSPS: John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Ramon Dominguez
EAV: Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, John Velazquez
Comment: The only difference here is Castellano over Rosario. Both had nearly the same year ($15.6 million in purses and 270+ wins), but Rosario did it with 190 fewer mounts.
GSPS: Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Graham Motion
EAV: Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher
Comment: The only difference here is Bill Mott over Graham Motion and I really don’t have a big problem either way. Mott won a couple million more in purses, but Motion won a few more races with fewer starters.
The Graded Stakes Point System and the Eclipse Award voters agree on 24 of the 36 selections above. Of the 12 differences, my only real disagreement is with the voters issuing express passes to the Eclipse Awards for anyone winning a Breeders’ Cup race. (Unless your name is Drosselmeyer. Or Court Vision.)
Overall, I’d say the Graded Stakes Point System did at least as good a job of picking the top three in each division as the Eclipse Award voters did. (OK, better. But I am biased.) I can also see how letting a system determine the division champions would destroy any interest and intrigue there may be in the actual Eclipse Award ceremony. Maybe a system could pick the top three for the ballot and then let the voters decide the Eclipse Award winners.
Now that the seemingly endless Kentucky Derby prep season is but a distant memory and the Triple Crown trail has reached its usual unsatisfying terminus, we can finally look beyond the three-year-olds and enjoy the full breadth that thoroughbred racing has to offer over these next eighteen weeks, leading to the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on November 4th and 5th.
July starts things off in a big way with 52 graded stakes races worth over $13 million, culminating with the $1,000,000 Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 31st. July also brings us two of racing’s most anticipated Opening Day’s – the boutique meets at Del Mar and Saratoga Race Course.
July Graded Stakes Highlights:
- 14 Grade 1’s worth $5,800,000
- 20 Grade 2’s worth $5,125,000
- 22 graded turf races worth $5,625,000
July Graded Stakes
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
|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
|< 5 runners||-20%|
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:
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
|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.