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Are Graded Earnings Really the Way to Glory?

At this point of the year, we are all familiar with the Kentucky Derby trail, and the pre-requisite to get into the field of 20 on the first Saturday in May.  The starters are determined by accumulation of graded stakes earnings.  In other words, the more money the horse earns in graded stakes races, the more likely it is that he/she will be in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

 

The concept of this method is ideal.  It gives priority to the horses that perform the best, in the races with the toughest company.  However, when the system was thought out and initiated, I’m not sure if races like the Delta Downs Jackpot were considered.  This one race could all but ensure the winner a ticket to Kentucky before their 2-year old season is even completed. The idea was that races with higher purses would attract higher quality competition, and be relatively scaled with race grade level.  This is true for the most part, but with exceptions.  Certain races on the derby trail have become “win and you’re in” races that resemble Breeder’s Cup preps that are slated for later in the year.  And it is here where we have the fundamental flaw of the graded stakes earnings being the sole criteria for entrance into the Kentucky Derby.  It is only “in theory” that it works as intended. 

 

For me, the Kentucky Derby is more than just watching 20 young horses go 10 furlongs and hoping to see my favorites come out on top.  It is far more than just a good betting opportunity.  It is about pure competition, which puts the best athletes of their generation in an “even” matchup of stamina, raw ability, tactics, and class to find out who is best.  Now, with 20 horses in single race an “even” matchup is a debatable topic for an entirely different discussion.  But, the question is how do we ensure that the 20 horses in the starting gate are truly the best of their generation and have earned their right to prove it?  In my opinion, a single prep race cannot justify that a horse is ready to show me all of what I am looking for in a Kentucky Derby candidate.

 

So, how do we amend the current system to ensure that the best horses are the ones running for the roses.  It is something that can be easily over thought and just as easily over constrained.  I have come up with a method that assigns a point value to the performance of each prep race, and assigns a weighting value to the respective performance of a horse based on age of the horse when raced, distance, race grade, finishing place, and to keep with the tradition of the sport, graded stakes earnings. 

 

The scale of the weights is below.

 

The points are calculated by taking the product of the results of a race for the top 4 race finishers.  At the end, the graded earnings are added, normalized to 25% of the top earnings bankroll total before the derby.  This method ensures that for winning a high-pursed race, the graded stakes earnings will account for no more than 20% of the final point total of the theoretical maximum (sorry, Daddy Long Legs). 

 

Lets use Hansen as an example for this model:

For the 2011 Breeders Cup Juvenile (8.5f, G1), Hansen finished in first place (which all know).  So this means that his point total for this race would be:

 

 

Adding in the final factor of earnings with all of the performances of his other races, we get a total of 691pts.  This was the highest total of all horses for this year.  The remaining totals and the respect place changes for the new field of 20 is shown in the tables below

 

 

 

**I wrote this prior to the defection of Mark Valeski, so these tables are not fully updated

 

Based on these tables, there are some fairly significant changes that would take place with the current 2012 field.  The largest being that Went the Day Well, Trinniberg, and Done Talking would no longer qualify.  This makes sense given that Trinniberg is only a sprinter, and Went the Day Well/Done Talking only won a single graded stakes race (with a high purse).

 

The major gainers that would now be a part of the race would be Howe Great, Optimizer, and El Padrino, all of whom have performed more consistently over multiple contests leading up to the derby, and not necessarily just had 1 good day.

 

There are several inherent flaws to this system, as there will be with any that is used.  The biggest flaw I see is that the possibility of a win and you’re in situation is still possible.  I need to rethink the scales a bit, but that’s what I am writing this.  I’m open to suggestions.  Also, there is no differentiation between dirt, synthetics, and turf.  It seems like we would want to scale them differently in bias to dirt preps, but I have decided to keep them equivalent.

 

All we can do is try to make the race as equal as possible for what the Kentucky Derby is meant to symbolize.  We want battle-tested thoroughbreds that represent the best of their generation.  After all, the winner of this race is likely going to secure breeding rights as a stallion for the rest of their lives, so why not enforce criteria that has the winner of a 10f race filled by horses bred to run the distance, and have proven their worthiness through durability and class during their early racing careers.

 

 

 

 

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Older Comments about Are Graded Earnings Really the Way to Glory?...

Brian, how about this system, Starting with the top graded money earner- HE PICKS his PP first, 2nd earner goes next, etc. Why should a millionaire horse get stuck in the 20 or 1 hole. Let the graded earnings have true value to earn favorable PP spots.

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