Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Currency of Eligibility
LOS ANGELES, March 16, 2013--At last count, only *four 3-year-olds are confirmed as starters for the Grade I Florida Derby. [Ed. Note: *Subsequently, a fifth has been added to the list]
But given the new currency for Kentucky Derby eligibility there is no way only five horses will be entered; even if the top three are among the highest-rated contenders on most published Derby lists.
With 40 points awarded for second place, can even Todd Pletcher afford not to try for both qualifying opportunities?
Under the old system, trainers were free to run in graded events at any distance, on any surface, at either age 2 or 3 and their horse’s accumulated earnings determined its eligibility.
The primary inequity of that system was the lack of uniformity in purses by grade (and in grading) and in their distribution among the top finishers. Another was the ability to qualify by winning a single race with an inflated purse relative to the quality of the field.
Still another were gimmicks like New York’s padding of 2YO graded stakes at Saratoga with bonuses for breaking maiden at Belmont, effectively making qualifiers out of races for non-winners.
Some have argued that this attempted gaming of the system incentivized Churchill Downs’ approach toward the exclusion of Hawthorne Race Course in the new system.
The primary weakness of the former system was that the excessive number of qualifying events tended to reduce both field size and level of competition in those preps as well as the likelihood that starters would face one another prior to the Derby. Another was that horses which had not proven themselves either sufficiently talented or prepared, were not only keeping some legitimate Triple Crown contenders out of the Derby but compromised the chances of those that did get in.
While the new system reduces the inequities of the one it replaces, it hasn’t yet eliminated them. Win-And-You’re-In (WAYI) is still alive and well. While such events can produce an Animal Kingdom
, more often than not, they can also produce one-hit-wonders or horses that cannot survive the stress of the subsequent Triple Crown campaign.
In replacing earnings with points, the CDI team did a good job of distributing them among the top 4 finishers with the 10-4-2-1 ratio that approximates purse distribution.
In my opinion, it is superior to the roughly 3-2-1-0 ratio -- variously adjusted for grade level -- employed by the Breeders’ Cup.
[I compared the latter (and a variation of it) with earnings here at HRI last year]
Rather than assigning "grades" to qualifying races, levels of competition are now associated with races occurring in specific pre-derby blocks of time. The most "productive" block for Derby winners figures to be the one from 5.5 to 2.5 weeks prior to the Derby, as horses participating in these races are considered more likely to win the Derby.
The current maximum multiplier of 10 is applied to the basic point ratio for races scheduled in that period and is expected to attract the strongest fields.
The next highest multiplier of 5 is applied in the block from 9.5 to 5.5 weeks out, the current group of races. Most horses participating in these races are expected to start in the final round as well.
Most Derby starters will have qualified during these two intervals. The WAYI effect may reward the 50 point winners and 40 point 2nd place finishers as well as the 100 point winners.
The lowest multiplier of 1 is applied to the initial period from 31.5 to 9.5 weeks out that includes all the 2-year-old qualifiers that can provide a potential Triple Crown performer with a "foundation," just as some early 3-year-old preps that have rarely produced Derby starters.
Much has been made of the BC Classic’s point value not exceeding those of other juvenile races. I support that approach. However, with the same subjectivity that includes England’s no-turns Royal Lodge
on turf as a qualifier, so should the 2YO male voted the Eclipse Award winner also be credited with the equivalent of an additional win in some other possible point category -- as opposed to creating another WAYI race. The juvenile champion should have to run well at 3 to qualify for the Derby.
A multiplier of 2 is applied to the final block starting 2.5 weeks out. It is a final opportunity to qualify for contenders who came up short during the previous two intervals. (Charismatic
was the last Derby winner from that interval).
Politics notwithstanding, team CDI came up with a logical system with more to like than dislike. If a Triple Crown Champion should emerge, CDI will deserve a share of that credit. The 20 Derby starters and the non-starters, too, will provide plenty of fuel for suggested tweaks from horsemen and fans alike.
I’m interested to see what the effects of applying alternative interval multipliers might be, particularly if the results suggest that eliminating WAYI situations might create even stronger fields. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the subsequent performances of those failing to qualify would support any such speculation.
As we approach the most significant preps at the end of March, if four proves to be a crowd in the Florida Derby starting gate, then the spotlight will focus intensely on any trainer who leaves his yet-to-qualify Derby hopeful in its stall on March 30.
[Ed. Note: *Edit made prior to posting, March 19]
Written by Indulto
Sunday, March 10, 2013
A Smile Is a Thin Disguise
LOS ANGELES, March 8, 2013--It appears there might be at least one prep race added to Churchill Down's list of Kentucky Derby qualifying events for 2014. If you're thinking it will be the Illinois Derby, think again!
With the recent release its 2013 stakes schedule, Calder Race Course announced that the ungraded Calder Derby would be moved from grass to dirt, from 8.5 to 9 furlongs, and from a purse of $100K to $250K.
It will be run a week earlier on April 6 - the same day as the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial. That was also the day the Grade III Illinois Derby used to be run before CDI eliminated them from the KY Derby Trail.
But wait - how can an ungraded stakes race be put on a par with these two traditional Grade I stalwarts? No problem - it's CDI, not the American Graded Stakes Committee, that determines the currency of eligibility; now distributed in points among the top four finishers in designated races.
And, despite its contraction of qualifying contests, CDI was careful to set a precedent by assigning 10 eligibility points to the winner of the ungraded, one-mile Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, which is not a CDI property...yet.
If CDI wants to use one of its own properties to host a qualifier in stead of a rival organization's property, that's their prerogative. Nobody with a real shot to get into this year's Kentucky Derby is likely to run in the revised Calder event, but this move will prevent Hawthorne from reclaiming its abdicated slot. Machiavelli would have been proud!
Hawthorne could still fit the IL Derby into Arkansas Derby day the following week if CDI would let them back in.
What's more likely, however, is that CDI will attempt to get that date for Hawthorne rival, Arlington Park, Arlington opens this year on the day before KY Derby day, but has long had its eye on expanded spring dates.
The KY Derby is no longer just the gateway to the Triple Crown, CDI has become its gate keeper as well. It's been said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
With three CDI properties hosting preps worth 100 points to the winner, CDI would indeed realize its objective of being "in control of the Derby." Imagine if they decide to make those races invitational!
It appears the press is finally starting to look into the situation with this DRF column
by Marcus Hersch who called the omission of the IL Derby from the Derby points system "curious."
"Churchill Downs is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., as is Arlington, and Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois is CDI's largest shareholder. Duchossois and Arlington have steadfastly maintained they played no part in the Illinois Derby's exclusion from Churchill's new Road to the Kentucky Derby system. Carey professes to believe that version of events. Many, though, see the linkage as all too obvious, an effort to make Chicago a one-track town."
Hersch described Hawthorne president, Tim Carey's first reaction:
'Carey said when Churchill revealed its new system in June, it caught Hawthorne off guard. Carey's first call went to Duchossois, not Churchill." As soon as the thing was announced, I picked up the phone and called him," Carey said. "He said he was not aware of it. He said he had just found out about it himself. I took him at his word."'
Later, Hersch revealed a more convincing view of that relationship:
'... Arlington has regularly called into question Hawthorne's financial viability during annual racing dates awards meetings with the Illinois Racing Board. "Publicly they have said at hearings that they need us, and in the same breath, they try to put us out of business," Carey said.'
Regarding Carey's subsequent IL Derby purse hike and calendar switch, Hersch wrote:
"To some, those moves invite comparison to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Hawthorne's financial status has become tenuous."
"Hawthorne's response to the Illinois Derby has not gone unquestioned. Many Hawthorne-based horsemen scoff at the notion of a Preakness prep, suggesting the same horses would show up if $250,000 had been carved from the purse instead of added to it."
I have this vision of Tim Carey harmonizing the following with the Eagles:
“…My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well with no appeal
On the other side of town a track is waiting
With location and dates no one could steal…”
= = = = =
I ran across two very interesting comments in response to
Jay Hovdey’s article
on the new Derby points system.
Comment by juliuso
What everyone seems to be missing with the new points system, is that this system will reward the most talented horses and trainers that are willing to take on an aggressive series of challenges before they even get to compete in the Big Race. Building a reputation as a 3 year old BEFORE reaching the big stage is good for the sport. This will expose more "great horses" as opposed to one hit wonders that got the perfect setup to wine one big race and then off to the breeding shed. There is no reason why a top class horse should not be getting 4-5 top class races under his/her belt as a 2 year old, and then 4-5 top class races as a 3 year old before going for the "classics".
What the sport needs is champion warriors, where fans can follow the progress and victories over many races, and where Superstars earn their stripes beating allcomers instead of vanquishing one field of runners on a good day.
Comment by Marshall Lowe in reply to juliuso
What YOU seem to be missing is that Churchill Downs Inc. is rewarding their tracks, punishing others and would, in fact, have eliminated many past dery winners. Also, how does this 'system' keep one-hit wonders out? Ever heard of King of David? Won the Ark Derby and finished up the track. How about Brilliant Speed (Blue Grass winner), or Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby). Boy, these horses sure were warriors, weren't they? This point BS is just that, and I defy you to come up with a cogent explanation why it is not.
juliuso is very convincing, but the new system doesn't just retain the "Win-and-You're-In" component, it expands it. To promote his "Warrior" concept, there cannot be such a discrepancy in points among preps, and each starter should have to be competitive in more than one 3YO prep. In my opinion, points accumulated should inversely determine post position draw order, and a point minimum might help eliminate the obstacle presented by the inside post position.
Marshall Lowe’s counterexamples are too simplistic. Animal Kingdom got in based on a single race and won. Bodemeister got in the way King David did, and he might have been a Triple Crown winner under different circumstances. Sometimes it'll work and sometimes it won't.
Written by Indulto
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
‘A’ Is for Athlete
LOS ANGELES March 2, 2013—Were you aware that jockeys whose first names begin with “J” and “R” currently dominate the Sport of Kings in North America? Perusing the Equibase Jockey Standings the other day, I happened to notice that the first names of the top 6 ranked jockeys were Javier, John, Jose, Rafael, Rosie, and Joel.
Think that’s a coincidence? The 10 top jocks of 2012 were Ramon, Javier, John, Rafael, Joel, Jose, Julien, Rosie, Joseph, and Junior. In 2011, the top 6 were Ramon, John, Javier, Joel, Rafael, and Julien.
In 2010, Ramon led the way again over John and Joel, but the 4th slot was Garrett’s who previously beat out Ramon in 2009. Robby filled out the top 8 in 2010 and the top 9 in 2009 after Rajiv.
Whatever the initials, these are extraordinary pilots, not simply passengers.
“R” is for remarkable. Ramon Dominguez’s recent injury may have taken him out of this year’s running, but only after he led all jockeys in earnings for 3 straight years (2010-2012).
“G” is for great in the case of Garrett Gomez who actually topped the standings for 4 consecutive years (2006-2009), which is why he’s on the ballot for induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.
He should be a shoe-in -- a sure thing given his daunting display of character that showed him recovering from substance abuse to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
Still another “J,” Jerry Bailey, was 3rd in 2005, 5th in 2004, after also finishing on top 3 times in succession (2001-2003) following his 2nd place finish in 2000. This Hall-of-Fame rider also closed out his career strongly after struggling with alcoholism.
The foremost current “J” is Hall-of-Famer, John Velazquez, who finished first twice in a row (2004-2005). As Jockey Guild President, he led their recovery from the Gertmanian fleecing, yet he also faced public wrath and scrutiny for his controversial role in the Life At Ten (LAT) fiasco.
But JR is today’s most sought-after jockey – at least in the type of races he’s willing to ride. Unlike Ramon, for example, claiming races are seldom the source of earnings responsible for his ranking.
That Breeders’ Cup misstep involving LAT replaced Big Brown’s blown Belmont Stakes as the broadest bettor buster since Secretariat in stakes races starting with “W,” i.e., the Wood, Whitney, and Woodward.
That aggravatingly aborted Triple Crown attempt brings us to another Hall-of-Fame rider, Kent Desormeaux, who held the 3rd slot in 2008 and the 4th slot in 2009, but slipped to 15th in 2010, 52nd in 2011, 99th in 2012, and currently is 326th. A NY Times article documenting Kent’s battles with the breathalyzer is linked to from his own website.
The point here is that even the most successful jockeys have frequently had to overcome adversity beyond the expected risk to life and limb. Some have come back stronger than ever, and some continue to struggle. The Internet has eliminated struggling in private, while broadening the audience for public criticism.
Many whose on-track experiences were enhanced by Desormeaux’s dominance at Santa Anita during his heyday there remember an amazing athlete whose infectious smile always accompanied him on his way to the saddling area and then to the post parade.
Most of us are distressed if not depressed by the downward spiraling of his personal and professional lives, and are rooting for his recovery and career resurgence.
Riding at the current Gulfstream Park meet, he ranks 39th while John, Javier, and Joel round out the top 3. With 1 win in 57 starts, Kent’s name is seldom seen in Gulfstream results charts, although he did have as many as three mounts last Sunday and this Saturday.
Last Saturday, he rode twice, once for one-time benefactor, Bill Mott, but the duo finished last at 5-1. These days the mounts on Mott’s multiple stakes winners mostly go to Joel who seems to have also inherited Kent’s mounts from Dale Romans’ barn.
In an occurrence of the “There’s no situation so bad it can’t get worse” phenomenon, Kent did not travel to Fairgrounds for last Saturday’s Risen Star to be aboard again for the upset win by I’ve Struck a Nerve who is trained by his brother, Keith Desormeaux.
The question as to who decided that horse and jockey should part company after their 14-length loss in the LeComte, has so far been neither asked nor answered. It surely will be by Derby day.
It would be a terrible waste if Kent isn’t in the starting gate for the 2013 Run for the Roses. The three-time Derby-winning talent -- even if tainted by temperament and tragedy -- remains a threat to triumph in any Triple Crown event.
The proven ability to negotiate those particular 10 furlongs -- including last year’s close-up third on a horse whose only victories came on Polytrack – can’t be denied and shouldn’t be ignored.
Written by John Pricci