The Friday Show: A Numbers Game, Hole In The Derby Trail?

by | 03.17.2017 | 9:01am
Hip 127, a colt by Orb, was one of five horses to sell for $1 million or more at the OBS March Sale

It was a record-setting week at OBS March, with the 2-year-olds in training sale hitting all-time marks for gross and average, plus selling more than five horses at $1 million or more.

In this week's edition of The Friday Show, Scott Jagow and Ray Paulick discuss the current state of the auction marketplace. Are new owners making a mistake with their approach to getting in the game?

Plus, a change this year on the Kentucky Derby trail seems to be having an impact on how connections are spotting their horses. And which Derby contenders should you keep an eye on in this weekend's Rebel Stakes?

  • Tinky

    I don’t usually knock heads with Ray, but I’m afraid he deserves to be pilloried for asserting that the downgrading of the Blue Grass and Wood is “ridiculous”.

    First, as I have mentioned more than a few times on this forum, it is ludicrous for any Derby preps to be Grade I, as they are intrinsically antithetical to what such races are meant to be. What I mean is that Grade I races are supposed to bring the best of a given division together, while the Derby preps incentivize, and typically achieve quite the opposite.

    More specifically, one need not be fluent in the Graded Stakes Committee’s methodology to see how misguided Ray’s position is with regard to the Blue Grass. I don’t have the patience to also delve in the history of the Wood, but here is a list of the last 17 Blue Grass winners, beginning in 2000 with High Yield. I have listed their performances in the Triple Crown races, and summarized their accomplishments in other Graded races.

    The predictably damning nutshell of my findings is that of those 17 Blue Grass winners, not one was able to finish better than third in a Triple Crown race, and only three (17%) were even able to accomplish that! Furthermore, only seven of the 17 won another Grade I event at some point in their careers, and eight were unable to win above the Grade III level.

    Now, we can argue about precisely what criteria should be used to judge whether a race should be given Grade I status, but I submit that there is no remotely persuasive basis on which one might claim that the Blue Grass should remain a Grade I. In fact, the downgrading was clearly long overdue.

    As a final note, yes, the polytrack era complicated matters to a degree, and yes, there have been a few good, placed runners. But neither of those variables would be enough to make the lipstick on the proverbial pig look otherwise.

    key: UP = unplaced, tc = Triple Crown, UP1tc = unplaced in one Triple Crown race

    High Yield – UP2tc; two prior Gr. I wins

    Millennium Wind – UP1tc; one Gr. II win

    Harlan’s Holiday – UP2tc; one prior, and one subsequent Gr. I wins

    Peace Rules – 3rd Derby; two subsequent Gr. I wins

    The Cliff’s Edge – UP1tc; one Gr. II and one Gr. III wins

    Bandini – UP1tc; one Grade III win

    Sinister Minister – UP1tc; no other Graded wins or placings

    Dominican – UP1tc; no other Graded wins

    Monba – UP1tc; no other Graded wins

    General Quarters – UP1tc; one subsequent Gr. I win (turf)

    Stately Victor – UP2tc; never better than 3rd in 13 other stakes

    Brilliant Speed – 3rd Belmont; one win in 11 other stakes

    Dullahan– 3rd Derby; one prior, and one subsequent Gr. I wins

    Java’s War – UP1tc; no wins in six other stakes

    Dance With Fate – UP1tc; no other stakes wins (five attempts)

    Carpe Diem – UP1tc; one prior Gr. I win

    Brody’s Cause – UP2tc; one prior Gr. I win

    • Stuart H


      I think your point is well taken.

      Line that same list up for the Florida Derby winners and then ask why the BGS and the Wood Memorial have the same Grade 1 status as the Gulfstream Park race. Clearly, GP is drawing some of the best 3 year olds in the country year after year (along with SA recently). Whether it is the location or a combination of things I do not know. All I do know is that it has been a very long time since we have had a Derby winner from The Wood Memorial, the BGS, or the LA Derby. At least the latter is a grade II. The other two need to be grade II’s as well. They are not drawing the top horses. Although this year Keeneland is attracting a couple of nice horses (including McCracken) but that one is going there due to scheduling issues due to an injury. I would not be against most of the Derby preps being grade II or III’s.

      • Tinky

        Thanks Stuart. Good to hear from you.

  • Jbumi

    I’d consider the SA Derby this year, not because other races have been downgraded, but because Mastery’s no longer in the picture. Makes this a likely softer spot than other KD preps around the country.

  • David Worley

    I wonder if the classification of ‘grades’ (I, II, III) is outdated. How about developing an annual calculation of the past significance of a stakes race based on future performance of the horses who participated? Just as basketball has adopted a ‘power index’ how about a ‘stakes power index’. This would do two things, it would bring the objectivity of a math model into the picture (although determining the weighting would still need to be determined subjectively) and it would provide a calculation of a given ‘power’ of a horses stakes record once they retire. Furthermore, the algorithm could be used in reverse to look historically and determine how a horse stacks up against the competition that they faced in their era.

    Instead of reading “so and so is a graded stakes winner” you’d be able to read “so and so’s SPI (stakes power index) is 173 and know, that’s pretty good given that Spectacular Bid’s was around 170. Now this wouldn’t mean that in a head to head match race so and so would beat Spectacular Bid, it only means that their record was comparable to SBs in relation to the competition each faced.

    Anyhow, I’m in the weeds here. My point is there is a better way to assess the quality of graded stakes races and doing the I, II, III thing seems very 1800’s to me similar to the way we still insist on recording past performances.

  • Kevin Callinan

    In a sport where tradition is now the primary appeal, downgrading two storied Derby preps is idiotic- rewarding the PA Derby sponsored by Clenbuterol is equally asinine.

    • Tinky

      “idiotic” is the operative word, but not in the context that you’ve supplied.

      In your peculiar world, it would be a great idea to renew the Washington D.C. International, and immediately award it Grade I status.

      Such a rich “tradition”, after all.

      • Kevin Callinan

        You wake up pretty grump! My ‘world’ doesn’t ignore the four Wood winners since 2000 who were injured before the Derby, including two clear cut favorites in Eskendereya and I Want Revenge…. or top stallions Tapit and Empire Maker … or Verrazano’s 116 Beyer in the Haskell… and of course Frosted’s Met Mile. And if you are still not sure about its status, consider the 11 Derby winners overall, the 4 TC winners and a 5th that ran in the race- you might’ve heard of him- Secretariat.

        • Tinky

          First, as you should be able to infer from my original, extensively buttressed post on the topic, I am focussed on the Blue Grass.

          Now, if you think that a race restricted to 3yos deserves Grade I status when of the last 17 winners, only four subsequently won Gr. I events, and in aggregate subsequently won only five such races, then I’d like very much like to hear your rationale.

          • Kevin Callinan

            Since our best colts generally retire at 3 there may be little reason to have Grade 1’s at all w/ your rationale- the season all owners and breeders traditionally point for is the 3 year old season. No one is interested in a stallion whose progeny take 4 years to develop- but maybe the Pegasus and Dubai Cup can change that obsession.

            Since you have pleaded ‘no mas’ to the Wood downgrade I’m willing to concede the Blue Grass has became a pedestrian event since it went to the ill-advised poly(although Street Sense did finished 2nd in the first poly race in ’07) and hasn’t recovered since it was switched back. It has been downgraded before in ’89- I don’t put it in the same class as the Wood.

          • Tinky

            I’d have to study the Wood, though it has undoubtedly been stronger than the Blue Grass in recent decades.

            There are two problems with your first point. First, a healthy percentage of those 17 winners raced long enough after the BG to prove themselves; they weren’t simply retired after flopping in the Derby.

            Secondly, you seem fully prepared to acquiesce to “market” forces, irrespective of how they may impact the game in the longer term. Do you believe that it is healthy for top colts to be retired at three, and not prove themselves as older horses? And, if your answer is “no”, then why would you support further incentivizing such a trend?

  • Concerned Observer

    I liked the discussion on the “new” owner paying so much for the few horses. He may get lucky, but this approach has driven a lot of good potential long term owners…..straight out of the sport.
    Usually, after reality sets in and they realize how hard they were “taken in”….they disappear. Sad.

    • Gls

      I have often wondered why when very successful business people come into the horse business their brain turns to sh#£ . They surly didn’t use the throw tons of money at it and hope for the best in their successful business. Then again there are some agents that when you shake their hand you better check to see if you still have all your finger when you get your hand back.

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