Friday, June 15, 2012


The Points Party


By Brendan O'Meara/@BrendanOMeara

FINALLY!

The column could right there and everyone would know what I’m talking about. It would get picked up by all the horse racing wires. The shortest column in the history of the world sums up what racing writers have been typing about for years. I’ve read Randy Moss. I’ve read Indulto. I’ve even written about it myself. The long-awaited, much-anticipated, casually-lated, never-corrugated, neatly-collated, Derby points system. To loosely quote Anchorman's Brick Tamland, "I'd like to extend to you an invitation to the points pants party."

The new system from Yum!hill Downs selects 36 races that qualify for Derby Points, like Schrute Bucks. Thirty-six races, none of which are run under a mile. Perfect. Sorry, Trinniberg.

There are four phases. First late September which has a bevy of prestigious graded juvenile races—including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—to February will feature a 10-4-2-1 point system. These are the whoopity-do races. So sorry, Vale of York.

For the next phase of the waxing moon horses win 50-20-10-5 points. Now things heat up, races hold more weight. The Derby is still two months away, but you still need to show.

At last we reach that onslaught of Grade 1s three-to-four weeks out from the Derby. Here we see the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial, and Arkansas Derby. So sorry, Uncle Mo. 100-40-20-10.

Derby Trial horses who have the gall to think about running one week later in the Derby, get only 20-8-4-2. You’re window is tight, Hierro.

"People understand the Derby is the Super Bowl of racing, but they don't understand what the 'league' structure is and what the series is to get there," track president T. Kevin Flanery told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "We think this is a very easily understandable series and season that the fan can follow. … This is about the future. This is about how people will find their way to the Derby in 2013 and beyond. That's the exciting thing. People will have to make decisions about what the best path is."

The beauty of this is how it devalues the two-year-old races for placement in the gate on the first Saturday in May. What it says is that the Derby will not reward precocity. The money is there, but your Derby ticket won’t be punched. Winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is now akin to finishing fourth in the Wood Memorial.

Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC sports, made a good point in the same Courier-Journal story, “"It builds the storylines, the matchups. Now you'll have these great horses who have already raced against each other before you get to Churchill Downs and the Preakness. You'll have the rivalries built in. Think of Tiger and Phil. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon."

Bodemeister may have faced I’ll Have Another in this scenario prior to the Derby. Imagine the drama unfolding this year had they had a history.

A real ballsy Theo Epstein-trade-Nomar-in-the-middle-of-the-season-move would have been to keep all qualifying to the United States, seeing as the Derby is our race. The UAE Derby, Royal Lodge Stakes and Grey Stakes will be included in the point system. It could also lead to a new game show: “Who Wants to Say No to Your an Arabian Prince!” Hosted, of course, by Regis Philbin. At least the point system essentially renders the $2 million purse of the March-run UAE Derby moot for horses looking to run in the Derby on grade earnings alone. I think the fifth place horse in that race could qualify on earnings alone under the old system.

The committee made a surprising move with regards to the Illinois Derby. 2002 Derby winner War Emblem came out it. I know it was ten years ago, but as recent as 2006 the Illinois Derby winner was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, that being Sweetnorthernsaint. Without that graded money to pick from, contenders will have to be nominated to several stakes races across the country in order to find a spot to race for points. The pool will be much more competitive and what will the standards be to get into all the 14-horse gates across the country for what will likely be an overflow of entrants? Do the points apply to that too? We’ll see.

The Illinois Derby will all-but lose high-quality three year olds and be nothing but a moderately-rich graded race (though likely not for long now) for mediocre horses running for owners lucky enough to have a horse just bad enough to collect a big check. Oh, well.

There will be time to evaluate the long-term ramifications of this new system, where its deficiencies lie and so forth. But what horse racing has done for its premier race is nothing short of a watershed moment and should be celebrated accordingly.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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