Keeneland presents American Graded Stakes Standings: It’s Time for a Change
Based on recent history, this may be an exercise in futility, but let's see if we can add some semblance of suspense to the Eclipse Award voting for Outstanding Breeder. It's about time.
Since voting for this award was taken out of the hands of the Eclipse Awards' Steering Committee a few years ago, only two breeders have won the award. Two. Since 2000, either Juddmonte Farms or Adena Springs has taken home the hardware, and in seven out of the last eight years, it has been Adena Springs, the overall earnings leader each of the past nine years.
Taking nothing away from the Stronach family's fine operation, Eclipse Award voters do a disservice to the sport by blindly handing over the award every year to the farm with the most earnings and failing to recognize smaller breeders whose accomplishments are especially noteworthy in certain years, given the dramatic difference in the number of broodmares and starters at their disposal.
Last year, for example, Grapestock LLC, the breeding arm of Dr. Tom Simon's Vinery, produced three different Grade 1 winners – the most of all breeders in 2011 – from only 189 total starts. By contrast, Adena Springs produced one Grade 1 winner, Game On Dude, with 3,579 starts. In addition, despite the massive discrepancy in starts, Grapestock had nearly as many graded stakes victories (7) as Adena Springs (9). Grapestock produced earnings of $13,014 per start compared to Adena's $4,336 per start. But when it came time to vote, Adena Springs racked up 151 votes while Grapestock got just one (which happened to be our very own Ray Paulick).
It just doesn't make sense.
This year, voters simply must take a good, hard look at Darley and Brereton C. Jones, neither of which has won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Breeder.
With 703 starts, Sheikh Mohammed's Darley has produced nine different graded stakes winners and 15 graded stakes victories, by far the most in the American Graded Stakes Standings. Darley also claims five different Grade 1 winners – Questing, Alpha, Emcee, Nahrain, and Better Lucky. No other breeder has more than two Grade 1 winners in 2012.
Darley currently ranks third in overall earnings at just over $8.2 million, while leader Adena Springs has about $11.8 million with more than four times as many starts (3,100). Darley's per-start earnings are off the charts at $11,754 compared to Adena's $3,825.
Brereton C. Jones also tops Adena in per-start earnings at $4,742 and ranks second in overall earnings just ahead of Darley, although Jones has had 1,774 starts versus Darley's 703. Jones is also ahead of Adena Springs with six individual graded stakes winners to Adena's four and at the top level, Jones has three Grade 1's from two different runners (Include Me Out and Believe You Can) while Adena has two Grade 1's, both coming from Game On Dude. Jones has consistently ranked near the top of both the American Graded Stakes Standings and North American earnings in recent years.
There are other smaller operations who have had outstanding years based on the strength of one horse – Janis Whitham with homebred Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, Morton Fink's Horse of the Year favorite Wise Dan, Harvey Clarke's I'll Have Another, and Fred and Buff Bradley's Groupie Doll, among others. Besides Whitham and Darley, the only other operation in the top 10 in earnings with fewer than 1,000 starts is Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC, who has won a pair of Grade 1's (My Miss Aurelia and Dreaming of Julia). Stonestreet has produced $7,709 per start, twice that of Adena Springs.
With just 306 starts, the Phipps Stable has racked up $10,846 in per-start earnings, trailing only Darley among breeders with at least 300 starts.
Some years, like in other categories, the breeder with the highest earnings might deserve the Eclipse Award, based on top horses, earnings per start or graded stakes accomplishments. This year, the evidence shows otherwise.
If Eclipse Award voters care at all about the integrity of this award, they will not simply glance at the earnings standings and give it to the name at the top. In fact, based on my own research here, it should be a slam dunk for Darley. If not Darley, then it's an appropriate year to recognize one of the breeders who do more with less and break the disturbing trend of blindly ranking quantity over quality.