American Graded Stakes Standings brought to you by Keeneland: Not Just about the Money

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:48am

I've made no secret of the fact that I think a majority of Eclipse Awards voters are lazy when it comes to casting their ballots for outstanding owner and breeder each year. Too often, in my opinion, they merely look at the top of the list and vote for which individual or business has won the most money in a calendar year. If money won is all that determines an outstanding year, then why not eliminate the vote and give the award to whoever is at the top of the money list?

Either that or encourage voters to spend a few minutes looking at the information provided to them when the Eclipse Award ballots are distributed. It's not that tough.

There is no official criteria for what constitutes an “outstanding” year for an owner or breeder. However, since Eclipse Awards on the equine side go to the horses that win the biggest races or dominate their division throughout the year, shouldn't the human awards follow suit?

Not to pick on Richard Englander or Michael Gill—two individuals who won Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner in the past decade by virtue of dominating the claiming ranks—but neither one of them won a Grade 1 race. They shouldn't even be eligible. Why can't the National Thoroughbred Racing Association institute a very simple rule that says a jockey, trainer, owner or breeder must have won at least one Grade 1 race to be eligible for an Eclipse Award that year?

(I would make an exception for apprentice jockey, since their chances are so limited in American Graded Stakes.)
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Of course, just as Englander or Gill may have “bought” their Eclipse Awards by operating massive claiming stables and running far more horses than anyone else in the years they won, so, too, can a racing stable or breeding operation dominate by either attempting to buy all the best horses at auction or breeding the largest number of horses in North America.

So here is one small suggestion for voters: get a working calculator and simply divide the amount of money won by an owner or breeder by the total number of starts that owner or breeder had during the year.

Taking a look at the top five owners of 2010 by AGS races won, there are two standouts by earnings per start. The first, WinStar Farm, should be the heavy favorite to win an Eclipse Award as outstanding owner in 2010 because 1) the operation won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes with Super Saver and Drosselmeyer, respectively, 2) has six individual AGS winners so far this year; 3) is leading by money won despite having fewer starters than many other stables; and 4) has average earnings per start of $24,431.

Another operation with outstanding numbers is the racing stable run by Arnold Zetcher, which has four individual AGS winners from just 58 starts. Three of the four (Gabby's Golden Gal, E Z's Gentleman and El Brujo) won Grade 1 events and the fourth won a G2. And Zetcher could have had a fourth G1 winner had he not sold Richard's Kid to Zabeel Racing International after last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Richard's Kid won two G1 races and a G2 this year.

Zetcher's average earnings per start this year are $27,245. That is an incredible number for any racing operation.

Zayat Stables (Zetcher, Zabeel, Zayat….what is it about the Z's this year?) is another operation that has done well in American Graded Stakes in 2010, with eight AGS wins from six different horses. But a closer look shows that the operation has had many more opportunities—a total of 339 starts so far—and the average earnings per start is just $10,852, far lower than the aforementioned owners.

Jerry and Ann Moss have not been simply a one-horse stable that has ridden on the back of the mighty Zenyatta. Neko Bay and Cozi Rosie also have carried their silks to victories in AGS races in 2010. Their average earnings per start (from 85 starts) are $19,584.

Last but certainly not least of the top five stables by AGS wins in 2010 is the Jay Em Ess Stable of Mace and Samantha Siegel. Led by G1 Hopeful winner Boys At Tosconova, Jay Em Ess has won seven AGS races of 2010 from five different starters. Jay Em Ess's national racing stable has averaged $10,160 per start from 216 starts.

Obviously, there are some big races yet to run, but based on numbers alone (and not sentiment, which should earn Jerry and Ann Moss many votes for keeping Zenyatta in training another year), WinStar Farm would get my vote today for the outstanding owner of 2010.

  • FourCats

    “There is no official criteria for what constitutes an “outstanding” year for an owner or breeder.”

    Therein lies the problem with the Eclipse awards in all categories. Without official (and objective and known-in-advance) criteria, the Eclipse awards are nothing more than popularity contests (and diminished as such, in my opinion). (And popularity contests voted on by a small group of supposed “experts”.) Everyone has a different idea of who should win (and why). While some people like the suspense of the year-end awards, I think that anyone and everyone should be able to tell who will win by comparing the candidates’ records throughout the year with a set of established criteria.

    Think other sports. Think the NFL. Everyone knows that the champion team is the one that wins the Super Bowl. It isn’t open to “voting” nor should it be. And, as a result, the public is much more engaged and views the “result” as fairer.

  • Sobhy Sonbol


    I couldn’t agree with you anymore that the voters are extremely lazy when it comes to casting their votes for Outstanding owner. I was the Vice President and Racing Manager for Zayat Stables from 2005 to end of 2009. I also think that the voters are not objective in their voting because in 2008 Zayat Stables was the leading money earner in the country and not only did we not get an eclipse award, we didn’t even get nominated. To make things worse the award went to Stronach and he was introduced on stage as the leading money earner while he was actually the second leading money earner that year.
    I am very proud of what the stable has achieved in such a short and what it has continued to achieve year after year. It is not a one horse stable. Every horse contributes at the level that he can possibly can whether it is a G1 or a Clm 25000.
    However, what you mentioned above as a possible solution to how to measure the quality of a racing outfit through the average earning per start is in my opinion an gross error in judgement. There is no doubt that Winstar has had a great year and that they are a top operation but you cannot judge performance of an outfit through the average earning per start. If you look closer at their numbers you will know why. As of yesterday 4 of the 199 starts that Winstar had count for 57% of their total earnings. So 2% of their starts count for 57% of their earnings.
    Now lets compare between Zayat Stables and Winstar for a second
    First of all right off the bat Zayat are winning 22% ITM 53% and Winstar is Winning 16% ITM 48%
    Second when it comes to stakes Zayat are 27% 61% and they are 20% 56%
    Zayat has won 14 stakes and placed in 17 stakes with 16 Stake Horses
    Winstar has won 8 Stakes and placed in 15 Stakes with 18 Stakes Horses

    So if you wants to measure the top owners by the quality of their racing lets isolate the stakes and the bottom line there is Zayat won 6 more stakes with 2 less horses.

    LIke I said the winstar average is totally skewed. Winstar has a median of 2.4k and a standard deviation of 115k this shows that this average is really coming from a small amount of purses like the derby etc.

    Zayat on the other hand has a median of 2.8k (higher) and a STDEV of 30k which shows that all the stable is contributing to a a real average

    Now to drive this home:

    Winstar has NO horses that will run in the BC the only one they have is Blue Laser Bluegrass that won the 2yo grass race in CAN but he has to be able to get in first

    Zayat is going in with 4 legitimate contenders

    This is a hard subject for me to be totally objective about but I think the statistical analysis above speaks for it self.

    Sobhy Sonbol

  • Ray Paulick


    I appreciate the time you took to research and comment on this story, and you raise some very valid points and offer compelling evidence that Zayat Stables is a serious contender for an Eclipse Award–something that should have been the case in 2008, as you correctly pointed out.

    The year is far from being over, and the stable is well positioned to finish 2010 strong. Good luck as the rest of this campaign unfolds!

    The point of the article is that these awards are very important to owners, who invest large sums of money into the industry, and voters should be mindful and respectful of the importance of the individual awards as they cast their ballots. My personal opinion is that success at the highest level of the game is what should count the most in the Eclipse Awards, and Zayat Stables is enjoying great success at that level.

    Thanks again for the comment.


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