Archive for points system

Rebel Stakes Proof That New Derby Points System Works???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gary West of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Rebel proof new points system works

Those Kentucky Derby scholarships have been revoked, those free rides discontinued that would have led to a reserved stall in the starting gate. Sixteen spots for the Derby remain open and vacant; they wait to be won. And so the next five weeks could produce some of the most exciting and competitive racing ever seen on this modern interstate highway system that annually leads to Kentucky.

It’s a healthy situation for the sport, and it’s largely a result of the new point system employed by Churchill Downs. When announced last year, the new system met with skepticism and with tiresome cackles of “If it ain’t broke …” The usual parties circled around, quite predictably, to protect their own interests, whether they were the entitlements of precocious 2-year-olds or the exalted status of certain races. Only a few observers, it seemed, even acknowledged that there might be a larger question, as in whether this change would be good for racing. Well, it is. It’s very good for racing, which the upcoming weeks will demonstrate.

As you’re undoubtedly aware, points in designated races have replaced earnings in graded stakes as the criterion for determining the 20 Kentucky Derby starters. But why is that improvement, and why is it salubrious for the sport?

If the earlier method were still employed today, then at least 12 Triple Crown nominees, not counting fillies or injured horses, such as Violence and Ive Struck A Nerve, would already have a bankroll large enough to virtually guarantee them a run at the famed roses. Even worse, they wouldn’t necessarily be the 12 most worthy horses, nor would they be the fans’ most desirable dozen.

He’s Had Enough, for example, has $442,000 in graded earnings, most of that ($360,000) from his runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race that nearly disintegrated in the overheated turbulence of its pace. Under the graded-earnings criterion, that $442,000 would have reserved him a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Last year, with earnings in graded stakes of $184,708, Optimizer was the 20th horse to qualify for the Derby. In 2010, Make Music For Me needed $218,750 in graded earnings to gain the 20th spot in the Derby, and that was the most ever required.

In other words, under the former rules, He’s Had Enough would have earned all he needed in the Juvenile; he, in effect, would have won a Kentucky Derby scholarship by finishing second last November at Santa Anita. But does he deserve a scholarship, a free ride into the Derby? Should he already have a reserved stall in the starting gate and a saddle towel adorned with a Derby logo and his name? After all, he has won only once in his career, a maiden race in his debut. And since the Breeders’ Cup, he has finished fifth in the CashCall Futurity, third (which was also next to last) in the Robert Lewis Stakes and fifth in the Fountain of Youth, beaten by a total of nearly 27 lengths.

Does Fortify deserve a scholarship? With $220,000 in graded earnings as a 2-year-old, he would have had one under the former system, even though he has won only once in his career and finished sixth in his most recent outing in Dubai.

In the new qualifying format, a horse might need something around 40 points to assure himself a place in the roseate lineup. He’s Had Enough has six points and Fortify three, but with 12 races remaining that offer points, they still have the opportunity to earn their way into the Kentucky Derby, and that’s, well, the point. The new system is more meritocratic.

And, in fact, it was indeed broken, that old system for determining the Derby starters. For evidence of that, just look at the leading graded money winners among this year’s Triple Crown nominees and ask yourself how many of the top 20 should run in the Kentucky Derby.

Grades were never intended to be used for winnowing the Derby chaff from the Derby contenders. Success in a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds or in a turf race, no matter what their grades, isn’t predictive of success in the Kentucky Derby. And, frankly, Churchill Downs was foolish ever to allow the Graded Stakes Committee to determine who runs in the Derby. Why would you throw a million-dollar party and let some committee in Lexington make out the guest list?

But with its point system, Churchill took possession of its Derby this year, and the consequences of that decision are already looking very positive. Only four horses — Hear The Ghost, Orb, Verrazano and Vyjack, who all have 50 points — are already in the Derby.

And so, 16 spots are open with 12 races remaining. That’s the sort of drama fans love. Does the new system place too much emphasis on these final races, which are worth more points than earlier preps?

Pondering that question and having realized that the foremost Triple Crown candidate in his barn, Uncaptured, would have, because of a minor injury, only two races prior to the Derby, trainer Mark Casse said, “If a horse can’t run well in either of his final preps, then he shouldn’t be in the Derby.”

If that seems apostasy, it’s because the Derby scholarship has become so accepted. But the scholarships have been revoked and the free rides discontinued.

No, this year, for many, getting into the Derby comes down to these final prep races. Momentum is building; stakes are rising. To reserve a place for himself in the Churchill starting gate, Shanghai Bobby needs another good outing in the Florida Derby, but is that too much to ask of a champion? Revolutionary needs a one-two finish in the Louisiana Derby, Normandy Invasion needs to put his troubles behind him in the Wood, and Uncaptured must return with his best form in either the Spiral or the Blue Grass if they’re to earn their way into the Kentucky Derby.

These final preps are going to reverberate with drama and intrigue. Just look at Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, worth 50 points to the winner, which, of course, is tantamount to a berth in the Kentucky Derby.

Super Ninety Nine, who won the Southwest Stakes in a romp, has returned from California and appears formidable, even intimidating, but few have backed down. In fact, the field is laden with speed, with the sort of horses that could challenge Super Ninety Nine early. Delhomme, for example, who finished third after leading until deep stretch in the Remsen, is making his seasonal debut. Oxbow, who won the Lecomte Stakes by more than 11 lengths before a troubled trip and a fourth in the Risen Star Stakes, could also challenge. Treasury Bill and Den’s Legacy would probably benefit from a lively and contentious pace, and then there’s Carve, an intriguing sort if only because he’s unbeaten.

It’s a terrific race, this Rebel, and it’s just the next step in this progression. Partly because of a new point system, the next five weeks could offer some of the most exciting and competitive racing ever seen on this modern thoroughfare that leads to Kentucky.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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The Pros and Cons of the New Derby Points System

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jennie Rees of Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Road to the Derby may have bumps under new setup

Unbeaten champion Shanghai Bobby — winner of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and two other prestigious 2-year-old stakes — makes his 2013 debut Saturday in a race designed to propel the colt toward the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

But unlike previous Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victors, Shanghai Bobby is not yet guaranteed a spot in the starting gate for the 139th running of the Derby.

That’s because Churchill Downs has switched the formula for determining preference if more than the capacity 20 horses are entered, as has become the norm.

Churchill announced last June that it was ditching graded-stakes earnings and replacing it with a tiered points system heavily weighted toward the 11/8-mile prep races in late March and April.

So Shanghai Bobby doesn’t just have to stay healthy until the Derby, the champion also has to prove all over again that he belongs there.

That’s the No. 1 criticism of the new system, one of the most fundamental changes in Derby history. To many trainers and owners, that’s like making the Masters champion qualify the next year to play in the golf classic.

Last fall, Churchill senior management asked Louisville civic leader and horse owner Ed Glasscock what he thought. He is a partner in Shanghai Bobby.

“I said, ‘Do you want me to respond to that question when we have a horse who has won the Breeders’ Cup and every major 2-year-old race, has made $1.6 million and is not qualified for the Kentucky Derby?’ ” he recalled with a laugh.

Glasscock said he often tells the top players at Churchill that, “If Shanghai Bobby cannot live up to our expectations during the 3-year-old spring and season, then maybe he doesn’t deserve to be in the Derby.’

“I say that to be nice. But do I really feel that way? No. He deserves to be in the Derby … whether he wins another race or not.”

Others agree.

“The winner of the Breeders’ Cup should be an automatic,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who will try to beat Shanghai Bobby with the colt Frac Daddy in today’s $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Whoever wins the 11/16-mile, Grade III Holy Bull will earn 10 points toward the Derby. That’s the same as Shanghai Bobby earned for winning the Breeders’ Cup last November in California — and the same number available for the ungraded, $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes in Arkansas earlier this week.

Churchill officials expect the new structure will organize the prep races into the equivalent of a regular season and playoffs, making it easier for fans to relate and sparking more interest.

The track said studies showed the average person doesn’t know what graded stakes are — they’re the world’s most important races, as designated by a committee — while points are easier to follow.

For the series it’s calling the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Churchill pared about 185 races worldwide down to 36 — the vast majority being historically prominent Derby preps. Points are awarded to the top four finishers in each event, starting out with a 10-4-2-1 allocation and building to races with a 100-40-20-10 payout.

Churchill says the goal is to come up with the 20 horses in the best form and best equipped to handle the Derby’s 11/4-mile.

The biggest changes: No race less than a mile was included, the only turf race was one last fall in England, races restricted to fillies do not count toward the points, and only three foreign races count.

The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile having the same points (10 to the winner) as other 2-year-old stakes and preps held early in the 3-year-old season is one criticism. Another is that Hawthorne’s Illinois Derby — which produced 2002 Derby winner War Emblem — was excluded.

Darren Rogers — Churchill’s senior director of publicity who did much of the modeling and numbers-crunching as track staff debated what system to install — estimates that 40 points should secure a Derby berth, and that horses probably are safe at 30.

D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner, contends the format will force trainers to do things they don’t want to so they can be sure they have enough points. “If you wait for one of those 100-point races, saying that will pretty much get you in, what if you stumble at the start or get wiped out? It forces us as trainers to run them more often. Every one of us has to look at another race that we probably wouldn’t have looked at before.”

Rogers says he appreciates trainers’ misgivings but believes they are largely unfounded, that the concerns with gaining enough points most often will be no different than seeking earnings.

Rogers said it doesn’t eliminate the benefits of winning races with big-money purses, because the tiebreaker — which figures to come into play with any points system — is the most earnings in non-restricted stakes.

“The Kentucky Derby is the Holy Grail for our sport,” he said. “It should not be easy to get into the race. We’ve eliminated some of the backdoor routes, quote, unquote. Sprint races. Turf races. Races where the competition was softer but the purses were lofty.

“Look, when you go from 185 races to 36, it becomes more challenging. They’re probably forced to make some tough decisions, especially those with large groups of contenders. There aren’t as many spots to choose from. We understand that. We hear them. We just believe we’re going in the right direction.”

Nick Zito, a two-time Derby winner, is fine with the system. He notes that his 2010 Derby runner-up Ice Box and 2011 beaten Derby favorite Dialed In might not have made the race had they not won the Florida Derby. Under the points system, a second or even third in such a 100-point race should be sufficient.

“My horses seem to come around later,” Zito said. “So this format is not too bad.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?