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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Derby By Invitation Only

- If you don't mind a brief commercial announcement, here's a plug for my buddy DiscreetCat, who's been on fire over at Discreet Picks, the link to which is still, I think, somewhere amidst the construction that is going on with the site right now. I know he's had at least four of his last five, not including Gayego, who I know he liked on Saturday. It actually seemed as if a lot of people liked him, and $6.60 wasn't too bad of a price I don't think....if of course you figured he'd run well on dirt. Maybe his winning may make some bettors more comfortable backing Colonel John, and thus depress his odds.

You can't compare the Keeneland Polytrack to the Cushion Tracks in California anyway (even other than the fact that the Polytrack drains properly and isn't scheduled to be replaced). Keeneland's track seems like a freak show to me in comparison to Santa Anita and Hollywood when it comes to how the dirt form translates, and the manner in which the races are run. So I don't think that the way horses translate their dirt form to Keeneland, or vice versa, has anything to do with how they will do so when it comes to Cushion Track. I think it's foolish for Asmussen to come out and say he won't run Pyro in the Breeders Cup. In fact, we don't even know what kind of surface they'll have there.

Anyway, Discreet Cat left this comment:

The current graded-earnings system of selecting the Derby field has simply got to change. Horses who win a few graded sprints as 2yo's (see Kodiak Kowboy and Salute the Sarge) are given preference over horses who have been running well in two-turn races as 3yo's (see El Gato Malo and Yankee Bravo). Even the current Derby sensation Big Brown was on the outside looking in before his win in the Florida Derby. If he had run third (with traffic problems, let's say), he wouldn't be in the race either. Also of concern is fillies who run up graded-stakes earnings in races such as the 4-horse Fantasy Stakes. Nothing against Eight Belles, I'm a big fan of hers, but i don't think racing vs. 3 fillies should punch your ticket to the Derby.

In my opinion, the race should be by invitation-only. Put together a panel of handicappers/analysts (no matter how incompetent) and let the select the 20 horses most deserving of a spot. Surely, there will be whining from the connections who miss the cut, but it beats the hell out of the system we have now.
For one thing, if you think there would be whining with that system, wait until you hear what happens if Eight Belles enters and scratches to run in the Oaks!

I'm totally down with this idea for the reasons DC states; and also for the controversy that is inevitably generated when human judgment becomes involved, and that's always good for some press coverage and publicity. They could have a selection show (on TVG HRTV) like the NCAA tournament with, of course, Todd (i know it's) Schrupp Laffit Pincay Jr. all dressed up in his tuxedo.

Some tweaking might be in order. Perhaps it would be good to have a certain amount of spots guaranteed on merit - dare I suggest a 'win and you're in' for the Derby? And there would have to be minimum prep race requirements to insure that horses actually run in races once they no longer have to compete for earnings.

Since there would be human judgment involved, there will of course be mistakes made, and some horses and owners will be left out unfairly. But that can happen now too, when you have qualifiers like Z Humor, getting picked on around here lately, still living off the fruits of his dead heat win in the rich Delta Jackpot last year. That race is effectively more important the Blue Grass, or the Arkansas Derby, or the Wood. How can that be?

Probably not that much would change. The worthiest contenders would very likely qualify under any system. But it would prevent a scenario like the one with Big Brown described above. Can you imagine how dull this Derby would seem if he wasn't eligible for the race?


Anonymous said...

What's up with the new layout? It is funky with the data bar at the left.

As for the suggestion of having the Derby by invitation only that would just smack of the good-old boys club gone bad.

This sport has a long record of slights & snubs so no need to introduce that here. Sure there are some trainers of questionable records (e.g., Patrick B) which you could envision being blocked. But hey I seriously dislike Jess Jackson (and maybe I'm not alone) so if one of his horses was blocked what then?

Nope - I'm happy with graded earnings although I'd prefer to reduce the contributing value of 2yr old earnings over 3-yr old earnings. The Delta Jackpot, for example, is a joke with the amount of graded money it nets a winner. Its a defacto auto Derby admission to the winner. Although where is Birdbirdistheword today ;>

Cited before was Showing Up and when was he going to make his '08 debut. Looks like it won't happen:

4/15 Showing Up Retired

ballyfager said...

OTOH the current system is decidedly better than the previous system which was no system at all. Any bozo with a three year old could enter and at least one did every year.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the current system, but I would count 3 yr. old earnings more than those at 2 (twice as much, let's say).

The thing is, if a horse doesn't have sufficient earnings, it's solely the fault of the horse and it's connections. They can roll the dice with two preps, but then they've no ground to complain if they come up short.

Hey Byrn and Tomcito wouldn't be scrambling for cash now if they'd started their graded careers earlier this year. (And for late bloomers, that's why 3yr. old winnings should count for more)


Patrick J Patten said...

ok ok, sheesh, i live in 2008 and have a big computer screen at home, didn't realize the right column thing. Should be fixed for everyone now.

Anyways, a points system I think would be best, and the TBA's doesn't do to bad

Superfecta said...

True about Hey Burn and the graded earnings, but to be fair Tomcito should have had more from Peru count -- winning two classics in another country should count for something.

Having said that, I would like to see 3 year old graded earnings count for more than the 2 year old ones; a horse who peaked at 2 doesn't need to be bothering the Derby field at this point.

El Angelo said...

Not to be a wiseguy, but if Big Brown wasn't eligible, it would've been because he ran 3rd or worse in the Florida Derby, in which case he wouldn't have had much hype.

Alan Mann said...

>>Not to be a wiseguy, but if Big Brown wasn't eligible, it would've been because he ran 3rd or worse in the Florida Derby, in which case he wouldn't have had much hype.

Understood, but not necessarily. There could have been a scenario such as DC suggested in which he got left at the gate or somehow impeded, and then staged a spectacular recovery for third. The hype factor would still be intact. Then you'd have a situation in which people would scream if the panel awarded a Derby slot to a horse with three starts and no stakes wins. But so what? Who would get excluded, Anak Nakal?

Anonymous said...

The first change should be to eliminate dollars and use points based on a graded system, similar to, dare i write it, the Kentucky Derby Fantasy Stable pool.

Points earned in two turn 3yo or older races would count double those earned in one turn races, 2yo, turf, filly or foreign races. The Breeders Cup Juvenile would earn full points.

Win an you're in works for the major preps, but bottom line is those horses will qualify anyway under either system.

If I have time will remake the Derby lineup, once finalized and see if my system would make much difference.

Some of these problems are really not that difficult.

Next problem?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, a 2yo that wins the Remsen and is cometitive this year deserves the spot more than a Johnny come lately like Big Brown who earns a big figure beating one suspect field.

Anonymous said...

Or the Illinois Derby for that matter. How that race stays graded at all is a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Quote: "Or the Illinois Derby for that matter. How that race stays graded at all is a mystery."

It does inspite of every attempt by CDI/Arlington Park to kill that track off.

The fact that War Emblem won there and then the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories will likley keep the IL Derby graded for sometime to come.

Least we forget that Sinister Minister won the 2006 Bluegrass Stakes. After which 'Sinister' (through 1/1/08) never won another race in his career.

Alan Mann said...

The Illinois Derby was also won by Ten Most Wanted and Pollard's Vision, both of whom went on to win graded stakes...a G1 in the case of the former. So I think the graded status is OK for some time.

Alan Mann said...

by the way, that sucks about Showing Up.

Anonymous said...

Yankee Bravo and El Gato Malo running well in prep races? They were both off the board in the SA Derby. Had they run better, they wouldn't have to worry about graded earnings.

A panel voting for the derby 20? That would open a bigger can of worms than already exists. Removing the human element is the right way to go.

Brett said...

Like the new look but if you could increase the column size it would be great. It feels like i am reading a newspaper on my computer.

Alan Mann said...

>>Like the new look but if you could increase the column size it would be great. It feels like i am reading a newspaper on my computer.

Brett - Thanks for the feedback. We're still under construction here.

El Angelo said...

How about something of a hybird like the Breeders Cup where the first 12 spots go to the top money earners and a panel ranks the remaining entrants?

I won't even get into the notion of reducing the field size to 14...

Anonymous said...

El Gato Malo had a couple of two-turn stakes wins under his belt as a 3yo, then ran a close second to Colonel John in the Sham. He even went favored in the SA Derby. The fact that he ran one bad race (ala Pyro) shouldn't be enough to exclude him from the Derby field. As for Yankee Bravo, he looked great in a couple of two-turn stakes wins, then shipped to Fair Grounds and ran a nice third (with traffic) behind Pyro. He also ran reasonably well in the SA Derby, in fact i thought he was going to win coming off the turn. Bother of these horses deserve entry, in my opinion. Certainly more so than some horses who are ranked in front of them.

A perfect example of a worthy horse being excluded by the curtrent system would've been Rock Hard Ten a few years ago. He might've been one of the top three betting choices that year, and he couldn't even make the race. To say "it was his own fault" because he missed by a head in the Santa Anita Derby (in this third career start), then got disqualified to 3rd, is simply ridiculous. That horse did everything that was asked of him, and he was clearly one of the best horses in the country at that time.

Anonymous said...

Possible idea: take each open-company listed/graded stakes race run at a mile or over. Apply a point system: the most points that can be earned is proportional to the number of horses in the field.

Example: the Count Fleet at the Big A has 9 horses leaving the gate. Therefore the winner is capped at 9 points, and so on down to last. Graded races, depending on the grade, earn double points. Perhaps it would not just encourage legitimate participation in the preps, but encourage more horses, preferably ones of quality, to run. Tracks could theoretically do what they can to encourage quality fields and not just able bodies to fill races.

The end result would be you count points at 3 to determine the field. Tiebreakers could then include graded earnings, weighted more towards earnings at 3 than at 2. An option would be to include only races at a mile or over for two-year-olds to count within the system, and thus limit earnings to those earned in dirt races at a mile or beyond.

It's complicated to be sure, but I'd much rather prefer a point system that allows serious Derby hopefuls to strategize more about which races they enter with the Derby as a target, than someone who wins the Sanford and/or the Delta Jackpot and being eligible for the Derby while being eased in every start over a mile.

But it doesn't need an "invitational" aspect, the Derby. The glory of the last several years is that an owner could dream of running if they had the horse. It shouldn't ever anymore be left to the "country club committee" mindset to determine who is in and who's out. This ain't Project Runway, after all, it's the Derby.