Sports fans love polls.
During the college football and basketball seasons, discussion is never very
far from the weekly Top 25 polls.
Every win or loss starts a conversation about strength of schedule or
RPI and what kind of change will occur in the polls.
This week marks the return
of the NTRA Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old polls. I think that horse racing needs to do more to use
these polls to bring attention to our sport. The football and basketball polls
are prominently displayed across the country in print and online sports
sections. How many websites and newspapers post horse racing’s polls?
There is plenty of
opportunity with horse racing to have the same kind of discussions that occur
in college basketball. In basketball the voters use RPI to help make their
decisions. This definition of RPI comes from the RPI Wikipedia page, “The Rating Percentage Index, commonly known as the RPI, is a
quantity used to rank sports teams based upon a team's wins and losses and its
strength of schedule.” In racing we also carefully watch wins and losses. Racing
relies on the graded stakes system as basketball uses strength of schedule.
When I put together my poll vote each week I pay
particular attention to the number of grade one, two, and three stakes that
each horse has won. I look for head to
head match-ups between the horses just like in the team sports. We also have to
deal with horses that don’t run against each other, as in 2009 when Rachel
Alexandra and Zenyatta did not meet and that led to some of the most heated
debates in the history of racing. Similarly, this past season in college
football, highly rated Notre Dame did not play most of the other top teams and
that provided great fuel for debate.
With baseball and football
the final goal of the polls is to predict the National Champ. This is also the mandate in the Top
Thoroughbred poll, “Ultimately, the last NTRA Top
ThoroughbredPoll of the season should be representative
of who may be selected as Horse of the Year.”
March Madness provides a definitive resolution to
the basketball season, but how often do the polls predict that winner? College
football is still trying to figure out how to clearly crown their national
champion. In racing the best that we have is the Breeders’ Cup Championships,
but there are many races over the two days. The Classic has not crowned our
Horse of the Year since 2007 with Curlin. Wise Dan won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in
2012, and he did head into the Breeders’ Cup atop our poll and, of course, Wise
Dan was named Horse of the Year.
The two polls in horse racing provide plenty of
opportunity for interest. At this time of the year the three-year-olds are the
focus as the Derby Trail draws a great deal of attention. The wins and losses in the graded stakes races shape the top 10. The
poll tries to predict success in the Kentucky Derby and later in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
After the Triple Crown ends the three-year-old
poll shuts down and those horses become part of the Top Thoroughbred poll. In the
second half of the year some of them will begin to compete against older horses
as they vie for end of the year honors.
Horse racing has important races almost every
weekend, just as there are big basketball and football games throughout their
seasons. Be sure to join the conversation about racing’s top horses and spread
the word. Check out the weekly
poll and cast your vote for the top horses here at Horse Racing Nation's polls.