• Points make the grade, too

    POSTED Jan 31, 2013
    Over on the Twitters, Chris Rossi of @O_Crunk fame is fond of chiding me for sticking up for a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands qualifying system that now uses points rather than graded stakes earnings to determine the field if more than 20 horses enter.

    Indeed, back in March 2010 I wrote a paean to the graded stakes earnings system that dared anyone to think that a points system could be superior.

    One of the things gambling has taught me is that there's no perfect system. The martingale eventually collapses under the weight of table limits, and "angles" in horse racing (e.g. best last-out figure) eventually lose their edge in a pari-mutuel format.

    And so it goes with Derby qualifying rules, too. The new system isn't perfect but nor was the old system. Lost in all the consternation of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner no longer being guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate is that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Fillies Turf winners aren't either.

    That Shanghai Bobby isn't yet guaranteed a spot in the Derby is a big reason why we saw him in the Holy Bull Stakes this past weekend. Do you think Uncle Mo would have run in the Timely Writer Stakes if the points system was in place in 2010-2011?

    Another Breeders' Cup Juvenile comparison people make is to lament that the race is "worth the same as the Delta Jackpot" or "the four-horse Bob Lewis." What they don't acknowledge is that it's also no longer the most important race, as it was when it worth $2-million rather than

    I am not arguing for or against the BC Juvenile being worth 10 points to the winner, but I absolutely do think it's a positive that it and all other Breeders' Cup races are no longer automatic qualifiers and that it's no longer the most valuable race for qualifying purposes. 

    Also lost in the conversation is that spots one through 19 really don't matter. Oh, sure, those higher in the standings might attract more money from casual fans who recognize the names, but in terms of the purpose of the system, a billion points in first is the same as ten points in 19th.

    And 20th only matters if there's a horse in 21st. It's not a given that more than 20 will enter. The wailing and gnashing of teeth four months out about which horses might be left out doesn't seem to reflect the real possibility that no horse will be left out.

    Admittedly when this all began I had my doubts whether the new points system would achieve its stated goal of being more accessible to fans and help build drama on the Road to the Derby, but I'm happy to report that initial returns (albeit based mostly on anecdotal evidence) appear that I was wrong, and that the system is in fact helping drum up more interest not only in the races but also both the horses and competitions involved in the build up.

    Be sure to check out HelloRaceFans.org for updated information on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (and Oaks!), including schedules, standings, etc. And sign up for its Derby Prep Alert e-mail for info on the big races including free Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances (PPs) for each race!

    Anonymous said...

    If the Timely Writer was the choice of the trainer, then that should be his prerogative to prepare a horse as he sees fit. Yet, you see positives in forcing trainers to do things they wouldn't necessarily do if left to their own devices. So, my question is, who is more qualified to determine a horse's career trajectory, in this case toward the Kentucky Derby, the trainer or CD? I'm going with the trainer.

    Unknown said...

    The Timely Writer didn't offer any "points" (graded stakes earnings) in the old system either, so I don't understand your point.

    Anonymous said...

    My point is: Pletcher saw fit to run Uncle Mo in a race virtually designed for him, rather something, anything else. Bottom line was you needed the money to get in - not perfect, for sure. Now, CD tells you which races you must run in. The trainer should be allowed to run where he sees fit.

    Unknown said...

    CD says that if there's more than 20 horses entered, here's how we're determining who gets the 20th spot. Any trainer is free to run his or her horses where he wants.

    Under the previous scheme, the winners of six different two-year-old races had a guaranteed spot in the Derby. I'm not saying whether zero is right or wrong, but it is better than six.

    Anonymous said...

    Of course any trainer is free to run his or her horses where he wants, whether they have Churchill Downs permission or not. I'm just saying that the new system does not allow for an unorthodox route (turf to dirt, sprint to route, vanity tuneup race like the Timely Writer) if the trainer sees fit. The bottom line, to me, is that Churchill Downs should worry more about the race and its promotion than controlling the entire pipeline. They are getting into other people's business, and that crosses the line. This is not a league, it's a theoretically open event. Respect it.

    Anonymous said...

    . . . which goes along with what else I was saying. Also, yes, zero is better than six.

    Gary Palmisano Jr. said...

    Bottom Line is aside from the Breeders Cup the points system is going to shake out the exact same way as the graded earnings system. As the race point totals get higher so does the graded earnings. In my opinion the points system is a better system because it forces trainers to make a plan and show off their equine athletes not have them sit in the barn because they have enough earnings because of one race in November the prior year. The points system awards winning now and entering the Derby in top form and that is exactly how the Derby field should be determined. In the previous system a Delta Jackpot winner would have three times as much graded earnings as a horse that got beat a nose in the Florida or Louisiana Derby. That is crazy!! This system needs some tweaking and I am sure CDI will take a look at it and adjust accordingly, but it is far better than the previous method.

    Anonymous said...

    The more racing comes under the control of CDI executives the better.

    Just kidding.

    Under the Rail said...

    Weren't you part of coming up with the new system? Come on now...

    Unknown said...

    Under The Rail: Absolutely not. I had/have no input. I don't work for Churchill Downs Race Track.

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