Monday, October 20, 2008

Opus Part III, The Final Act: Racing

This post is obviously tardy in arriving. The reasons are manifold. The idea I had in mind as part of the Opus was that I had many reservations about Graded Stakes. So I began by going over the stakes races; make up of the fields, field size, quality etc. But this was an arduous task and if I was to go through them all I would never get to the post. Next I started to research how the powers that be actually determine the grades etc. (I think the best explanation can be found on the TOBA site). But like most explanations in the industry it all seemed like quicksand as in the end the determination can still be subjective. That's not to say I don't agree with much of what's there because I do. However, I still have some ideas that I think would improve the system. So I've decided to just voice my objections (some of which are addressed by the committee(s). After all that is what blogging is about - voicing one's opinion - isn't it?

One thing that most of will agree on is that when all is said and done and the dust has settled back to the track it is the results of these races that actually has the greatest effect on the industry. The results have the consequence of determining, for the most part, the health of what we consider to be the best of the breed. In truth the races should be the determining factor. And one can surmise that in the old standard saying of the breeding industry, "breed the best to the best and hope for the best" 'racehorses' can be substituted for "best." If it's accepted that results of the races are the most important determinant for the industry as a whole then action should be taken to insure that the races deemed best actually are the best races. Here then are some of my objections and possible resolutions.

First, often a field for a graded stakes -and seemingly more often in G.I's- comes up light in two ways, in talent and field size. And usually those two failings come in tandem. This can be because of the presence of a "Zeyatta" in a race and other's have decided to duck her. This bothers me perhaps more than any other occurrence. I know Zenyatta beat a very good horse in Hystericallady while winning the Lady's Secret (g.I ) but a field of four does not make a race - even if all runners are of the same running style - at least in my opinion. This is so because there is often such a great discrepancy in talent even at the graded level. I would suggest that a field that does not start 6 horses should automatically be downgraded for the year. I would settle for five but I'd prefer six. One of the arguments against this I can foresee is that some may wonder where are we going to get enough horses to fill the 110 Grade I races? I'd counter that with proposing that maybe we have too many Grade I races. These races should coerce competition between the top tier not enable easy spots for horse to get black-type. Even the best horse running in an aggressive campaign will enter what five maybe six? And that's really being optimistic. Let's be honest the quality of horses drops off dramatically after the creme de la creme. It seems the system is just a vehicle to get undeserving horses black-type for breeding purposes! It's a good thing this isn't going to the BH as there's not a shot of it getting in! While quality and size of the field is taken into consideration by the committee(s) I think that unless there is a combination (total) of three Grade I or Grade II runners in a field a Grade I should automatically be downgraded. I also think this should hold for every grade e.g. a Grade II should have a minimum of a combination of three G.II and GIII winners. And for a GradeIII at least a combination of three GIII or overnight winners. For fields with more than six entries perhaps these minimums should be upgraded. This would assure that the grade is more reflective of the quality of the race.

Graded Stakes, especially GI's are traditional, often they have been around for decades or more and it seems to me that it is their history that is being graded more than the history of their recent entrants. And this brings me to an idea that will probably be met with a collective Bronx cheer but here it is. With the exception of the three Classics (K.D. Preakness, Belmont) races and the Breeder's Cup races I don't think any grade should necessarily hold it's rank. All other races should be run with the grade from the year before, that is if they meet the minimums I mentioned above. However, in November when the committee(s) meet to review and set the grades for the next year they should regrade all the races run. As we all know "key races " tend to produce much more quality than other races. And key stakes races do the same thing. So if at the end of the year a grade II ended up meeting the criteria of a grade I then the race should be upgraded. Likewise a grade I or II that at the end of the year doesn't meet the criteria for those designations they should be downgraded. In other words it would work like this: a grade II race is run in March with horses that at the time would only have the race meet Grade II criteria. In November (after the B.C) when that race is evaluated it is found that four horses had gone on to win G.I's then the race would carry a G.I designation for the year. In this way the years race grades will be much more reflective of the true grade of the field that ran in them. But in no case would a race lose a graded status (nor could it) at worst (g.III) This would also, presumably,have a positive effect in the breeding shed. I think this would be especially helpful for the two year olds. Though I love to watch them often a graded stakes for two year olds come up with several maidens or lightly raced horses. It's not any one's fault it's the nature of the beast. But more often than not the precocious horses will fade by years end, often by summers end. I think that the grades should more represent the crop over all than the time of year they are able to be ready to run. All this can be easily sorted out to the advantage of the industry as a whole because at the end of each year the best horses will have secured the best grades. It is a sliding scale, so to speak, with historical precedent determining a races starting conditions and grade. The only negative I can see is in advertising a new stallion. In some cases those claims of Grade I winner of... would have to be postponed. But let's be honest, everyone in the business knows what's going on. In the end I doubt it would have any negative effect on business. I would hope it would only have positive effects. And of course until the end of the year they could actually advertise as having run and won a Grade I. I don't think it would upset too many apple carts or change too many results but the ones it does probably should be changed, for the good of the sport and the breed.

In the end I just want there to be enough races so every horse gets it's chance. So few that they are not able to duck each other. And rated according to a true evaluation of the horses that actually ran. It's not the grade that brings the people it's the horse(s) as was proved by the Monmouth Stakes (ungraded). Any track would take that race and that field any day. It's the horses stupid! should be the industry motto. The grades are useful and add interest but they are more an industry tool than a true predictor of fan interest. It truly is the horses!

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