• The Kentucky Derby BCS

    POSTED Jun 14, 2012
    The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was implemented in 1998 as a means of getting the best college football teams in the country to compete against each other in designated BCS bowl games, including a national championship contest.

    Growing out of discontent with the former system that often saw top-ranked teams playing inferior opponents in bowl games solely due to conference alliances, the BCS was supposed to put an end to all the postseason bickering over which team was best.

    It has failed miserably and, in fact, is currently under review by the various conference commissioners, who are — once again — seeking a better method.

    Hence, it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I perused the new Kentucky Derby entrant selection method put forth by Churchill Downs Inc. (NASDAQ: CHDN) today (Thursday, June 14).

    Now, in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Churchill Downs owns TwinSpires, which owns the blog site I am writing for. That said, racing is made up of different opinions, so I’m sure the powers-that-be won’t mind me expressing mine… although the guy in the dark suit and sunglasses who’s been peering over my shoulder for the last half-hour has me feeling a little nonplused.

    Anyway, as many of you know, the current system, which considers only graded stakes earnings to determine the pecking order of the top 20 three-year-olds eligible to compete in the Run for the Roses, has long been under fire.

    Critics contend that certain races exert undue influence on the process and that juvenile races, in particular, are given far too much weight.

    Thus, the new point system below:

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    According to a Churchill Downs press release, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby will feature 36 stakes races overall and include 17 marquee events for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that comprise a compact, 10-week run-up to the first Saturday in May to be known as the ‘Kentucky Derby Championship Series’.”

    “Our primary driving motive is to create new fans for horse racing,” explained CDI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Evans. “We’re implementing a more fan-friendly, cohesive and simplified system that should create compelling drama and appeal to a wider customer base. Fans, as well as the owners and trainers of the horses, will know exactly which races are included and what races matter the most based on a sliding scale of points.

    “Additionally, the new system, which gives us greater stability, represents historical relevancy and helps to ensure our longstanding mission of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May. We want to maximize the quality of the Derby field and protect the integrity of the race, while respecting the tradition and relevance of paths taken to the race by previous Kentucky Derby winners and prominent starters.”

    Here’s the problem with all that: things change… once important preps fade into obscurity, while others become more significant. In the 1970s, three winners of the Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes also won the Kentucky Derby — that’s a half a dozen Derby winners from just those two races in a single decade. In the 30+ years since then, however, only three horses that won either the Wood or Blue Grass found similar success in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

    What’s more, some of the race classifications and point awards don’t make a lot of sense. There have been just as many winners of the Illinois Derby (0 points to the winner) that have gone on to wear the roses as there have been winners of the Tampa Bay Derby (50 points to the winner) and UAE Derby (100 points to the winner). War Emblem won the Illinois Derby in 2002; Street Sense captured the Tampa Bay Derby in 2007; and no Derby winner has ever won — or even competed — in the UAE Derby.

    Still, it will be interesting to see if more racing fans are engaged and/or find the system fairer than before. As for me, I’m siding with Billy Joel on this one.


    Banner Belmont

    For a dying sport, horseracing sure has a lot of life left in it. Despite the scratch of Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another on the eve of what many hoped would be his finest hour, 85,811 people — the sixth-largest crowd in New York racing history (yes, that includes Saratoga) — showed up at Belmont Park to watch Union Rags redeem himself in a thrilling edition of the Belmont Stakes.

    The Michael Matz trainee bested Paynter in a prolonged — as in 26.03-seconds-for-the-final-quarter-mile prolonged — stretch drive and captured the Test of Champions by a neck, returning $7.50 to win.

    “We needed every bit of the mile and a half,” Matz said, referring to the distance of the Belmont Stakes.

    Indeed. And had Paynter not drifted out, Union Rags, who snuck through on the rail his rival had vacated, might have needed even more than 12 furlongs to get the job done.

    “[Paynter] ran his guts out,” noted Ahmed Zayat, owner of the Belmont runner-up as well as Derby and Preakness bridesmaid Bodemeister. “I'm very disappointed we opened the rail for [Union Rags].”

    Paynter’s jockey Mike Smith was disappointed too — in himself.

    “My horse ran terrific,” Smith said. “I just blame myself for the end there. Otherwise I thought I rode great.”

    Personally, although Paynter was my primary win contender in the Belmont Stakes, I don’t blame Smith for losing the race: from a tactical standpoint, he did everything right. Paynter got the easy lead I’d hoped for (-3 ESR) and he battled down the stretch determinedly (-3 LSR).

    He just got beat.

    Still, it was a great race and an even greater day for the sport, which showed that rumors of its impending death are greatly exaggerated.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    The Early Bird Wins the Race

    On my latest podcast, I discussed the potency of early speed… well, actually, I was going to discuss the potency of early speed, but I ran out of time. So, operating under the belief that a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve decided to present a real, live example instead:

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    Running in the second race at Prairie Meadows on Friday, June 15, Moma Loca is the kind of horse I love. She’s got great early speed, had a horrendous trip last time and is dropping significantly in class — from a N1X allowance affair into a $12,500 claiming event for non-winners of two races lifetime. I think she stands a great shot of leading from flag fall to finish.

    My Play: WIN on 2 at even (1-1) odds or greater.

    Win Factor Report for Churchill Downs

    My Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line) for Saturday’s races at Churchill Downs, which include the Grade II Fleur de Lis and the Grade I Stephen Foster, is now available for purchase at Brisnet.com.

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