Monday, December 10, 2012
The 2013 Prep Season: A Gift That Keeps On Giving
LOS ANGELES, December 9, 2012--When the American Graded Stakes Committee announced a net reduction of 8 graded stakes for 2013 to 457 -- 111 G1s (-1), 148 G2s (-3), and 198 G3s (-4) -– they earned the DRF’s seal of Good Grading from publisher, Steven Crist, who wrote:
"Defenders of some of the downgraded races will have their quarrels, but at least these were thoughtful and defensible decisions made in consultation with a wide-ranging and geographically balanced group of racing officials, owners, and breeders. That is a sharp contrast to Churchill Downs’s new Kentucky Derby qualifying system, which threw the graded stakes system out the window in favor of a corporate-driven marketing plan to boost the importance of races at tracks owned by Churchill while punishing its rivals The idea that winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby is literally 10 times more important than winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is utterly preposterous to anyone not employed by Churchill, where officials have said they consulted with no one else about the new scheme,"
"The Graded Stakes Committee swiftly acknowledged it made a mistake with the Hopeful after just one year. With any luck, Churchill Downs will do the same and come up with a more fair and reasonable Derby-qualifying system just as quickly."
I must commend Mr. Crist for keeping the Illinois Derby Issue (IDI) alive, albeit indirectly, as the preceding was at least the second time he has weighed in on the subject. What I find preposterous, however, is that earnings were the basis for Derby eligibility for so long, and that the ability to win a single race as a two-year-old could guarantee a start in the Derby as a three-year-old.
At least that error in judgment has been corrected.
What I find shameful and embarrassing to the sport is CDI’s having eliminated the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course as a Kentucky Derby qualifier which was no error but rather a deliberate act.
The main problem with Churchill Downs controversial changes is not the way points are allocated – or even that most previously qualifying races were eliminated – but that the single glaring exception to the strategy for elimination of races appears to have been designed to disrupt the operation of a business competitor.
Doubts that eliminating Hawthorne’s signature event as a traditional stop on the Derby Trail was somehow related to competition for racing dates with CDI’s Arlington Park were dispelled when Hawthorne officials subsequently offered to move their race to a date accommodating CDI’s newly defined points assignment intervals, but were rebuffed by CDI officials.
Assuming a National Horse Racing Commission (NHRC) existed, should it, and would it, have addressed CDI’s IDI? Consider this hypothetical: "Conduct detrimental to …" is a familiar phrase used in conjunction with disciplinary actions by major league commissioners in other sports … why not in racing as well?
The lack of a centralized racing authority prevents uniformity which is the key to fairness in racing. Since support for it has been elusive, some are seeking Federal intervention, seeking a means of possibly establishing policy in advance of a commission’s existence.
My previous remarks requesting greater transparency from Horseplayers Association of North America also apply to Bladerunners, another "grass roots" racing reform movement, this one to establish an NHRC.
I haven’t signed on yet because the only issue I ever see their point man, Sean Kerr, pursuing publicly is the medication issue from an anti-Lasix posture. I hope this is not another case where a self-appointed elite group is determining objectives without sufficient feedback and support from those who would be affected most by their policies and actions.
Perhaps a representative from Bladerunners might interact with HRI readers publicly regarding the IDI to discuss whether or not it would make a good candidate for advancing their agenda. Maybe he/she would also consider discussing whether plans include level playing fields for horseman AND horseplayers through a) uniform medication rules with consistent enforcement and b) uniform rewards to all pari-mutuel participants by lowering direct takeout while simultaneously eliminating rebates for a privileged few.
Some wrongs can’t be righted but when trying a universal solution chances of doing the right thing are increased. The Genie is already out of the bottle with regard to alternative legal gambling and off-track wagering. But surely the equitable and impartial aspects of the game can be shoved back in.
The first Saturday in May is now less than five months away. Can enough outrage at the IDI travesty be encouraged by the media to force CDI to alter its stance in time for Hawthorne to move its race backward? Probably not. The Illinois Derby will likely morph into this year’s most lucrative Preakness prep not called the Kentucky Derby. They could run it on the same day Churchill opens with its Derby Trial, offering a two-turn alternative with a larger purse.
Thus, the Hawthorne situation would still be news on the day of the last Derby qualifier when all eligible horses resulting from CDI’s grand experiment will have been determined.
By moving its race forward, Hawthorne could provide the media some fuel to expose some of the CDI rhetoric in the final few days leading up to the Derby, inviting comparisons between Derby winners in such far flung regions as Illinois, New Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. The ramifications of the 2013 prep season could linger long beyond May’s first Saturday.