12/06/2010 2:59PM

All Grade 1 Races Are Not Created Equal


One point of argument in the ongoing Horse of the Year debate concerning Blame and Zenyatta has been that Zenyatta won five Grade 1 races this year to Blame's three. While this is indeed a fact, this also underscores the importance of recognizing that all Grade 1 races are not created equal. There is a much lower degree of difficulty to winning, for example, the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes, a race restricted to 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, than there is to winning the Grade 1 Whitney, a race open to all comers older than 2 years of age at nine furlongs.

In this context, maybe we should be thinking about creating a new category of "Super Grade 1" races - let's call it "Super 1's" - to distinguish the really special Grade 1 events that are won by great horses on a consistent basis from the routinely special Grade 1's.

(As an aside, I think if you believe that it is worthwhile coming up with a mechanism to distinguish the most meaningful Grade 1 races from the others, which I do, then creating a new Super 1 category is the realistic way to go. It's a better alternative than downgrading a bunch of borderline Grade 1 races because that would lead to wholesale downgrading of a bunch of Grade 2 and 3 races. It might also unnecessarily penalize a track that might have only one Grade 1 event.)

Anyway, if you buy the concept of a Super 1 category, the next thing to do would be determine what sort of Grade 1 race would qualify. My inclination would be that only races open to all comers should be a Super 1 race. This means that events such as the Kentucky Derby, which is restricted to 3-year-olds, and, say, the Beldame Stakes, which is restricted to females, would not receive Super 1 status. I understand that this - not designating the Kentucky Derby a Super 1 race - would be somewhat controversial. But 3-year-olds and females always always have the opportunity to face older males in unrestricted races if they so desire. Older males, of course, cannot compete in races restricted to 3-year-olds or females, meaning those races by definition are weaker because they exclude a large and often superior group of horses.

Apart from defining the parameters of a Super 1 race, the other thing open for discussion would be specifically which races make the cut. For me, a list of Super 1's would start with the Breeders' Cup Classic, the BC Mile, the BC Turf, and the BC Sprint. From there, races such as the Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Metropolitan Handicap, Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Stephen Foster Handicap, and the Whitney Handicap all scream "Super 1" to me.

Other races worthy of consideration include the Ancient Title, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the United Nations, the Vosburgh, the Woodward, and maybe one or two others I've overlooked.

The point is, some Grade 1 races are, year after year, always stronger than other Grade 1 races. Perhaps the time has come to officially note the distinction.

While on the subject of graded stakes, the American Graded Stakes Committee last week issued its graded stakes list for 2011. This committee usually upgrades and downgrades stakes races based on the quality of the horses who run in those races. For that reason, I was surprised that the committee decided to upgrade the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf from Grade 2 to Grade 1, and the Breeders' Cup Marathon from Grade 3 to Grade 2.

We don't know what this year's Juvenile Turf winner Pluck will go on to accomplish, but we do know his one stakes victory prior to his BC win came in a Grade 3 race, and we know what Juvenile Turf winners before him did. Nownownow won a listed stakes before his Juvenile Turf score, and he made 12 graded or group stakes starts after, only winning the Grade 2 San Fernando on synthetic. None of Donativum's five starts before his Juvenile Turf came in a group stakes race. Four of his subsequent seven starts came in group stakes, none of which he won. And Pounced finished second in a Group 1 race before his Juvenile Turf, but has not raced since.

As for the Marathon, Muhannak made 14 starts before his Marathon, none of which came in a group or graded stakes. He did not hit the board in 11 starts after his Marathon win, eight of which came at the group or graded stakes level. Man of Iron had one attempt at the Group 3 level before his Marathon win and finished a distant fifth. He managed one third in six subsequent starts, and was off the board in two group stakes starts. And 10 of Eldaafer 23 starts before his win in this year's Marathon came in stakes. Eldaafer won two those stakes starts, last year's Grade 2 Brooklyn and this year's Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Championship.

The BC Juvenile Turf and BC Marathon are still new races. Maybe in time, they might evolve into being important events. But the horses who won these races so far do not exactly make a compelling case for upgrading. So one can only conclude that the real reason why these events were upgraded is strictly because of their link to the Breeders' Cup.

Jonni Mae More than 1 year ago
grade one is a grade one If you can't run Both Poly and dirt you are not a sound horse. Horses that can't run on Poly are not Sound
Broad Brush More than 1 year ago
No, we don't need another classification of Grade 1 races. What would be more useful is for a panel of racing experts to rank all graded stakes by actual quality of field rather than the assigned graded value. This year, for instance, the Grade 3 Modesty was a tougher race than the Grade 1 Beverly D, thanks to the presence of Tuscan Evening. The Grade 2 Cotillion looked like a Grade 1 with the top two fillies from the Alabama fighting it out again. The Del Mar Oaks looked like a true Grade 1, but alas, the American Oaks did not. Even the Breeders Cup Turf looked more like a Grade 2. The Grade 1 designation for the Jamaica looks like a farce to everyone except the committee with the power to correct this. The Jockey Club Gold Cup has been little more than a prep for the BC Classic ever since it shortened from 12 to 10 furlongs. The Beldame and the Spinster no longer decide the F&M championships, and only provide convenient spots for the major contenders to duck each other. The now downsized, rightsized, Lukasized Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks will no doubt become increasingly irrelevant as the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama are the races that owners actually want to win. The Test is now the third-most important 3YO F&M stakes. It appeared that Calder and Lone Star took the biggest hits from the classification committee, though no one seems to be talking about this.
ML/NJ More than 1 year ago
How silly! The whole graded stakes thing is a joke anyway, but it would certainly be a bigger joke if the Kentucky Derby, which every horseman, in this country anyway, wants to run in, were given lesser status than say the Cigar Mile.
C More than 1 year ago
Honestly, I would just scrap the graded stakes system entirely. No more graded races, period. Remember, we've only been grading races for 25 years or so. Overall, the grading of stakes has hurt the sport and weakened the breed. Everyone involved in this game on the inside knows the difference between the prestigious, historic stakes and the weaker ones. Everyone knows which races are open and which are restricted. Most importantly, the trainers know which horses are the cream of the crop in each division. You want to see owners and trainers map out aggressive schedules and challenge the best competition in each division? Want to see females take on males more frequently? Take away the grades. It's too easy to run and hide, but still accumulate Grade 1 "titles". At the end of the year, some of these horses are in position to win Eclipse awards and many retire early after getting their black-type. Imagine if there were no "Grade 1" races to point to though. If trainers knew that the Eclipse awards and, more importantly, breeding prospects were no longer based on winning a certain number of races carrying the G1 label (which was intended to imply equality), you can bet they'd stop ducking the better horses. If they knew that Eclipse voters and breeding operations would have use their own perception, instead of a resume, to evaluate the worth of their runners, a lot of things would change for the better.
CAM More than 1 year ago
The problem with these graded stakes designations is that they DO NOT accurately reflect the actual level of competition within them. Most graded stakes have become nothing more than excuses for breeders to overly-inflate the value of their potential reproducing stock. I know this will never happen, but I think most of the 2YO G1 races should be downgraded. This might actually give people an incentive to point their nice youngsters to a career that lasts more than four months. How many of the 2YOs who win G1s in June and July end up accomplishing squat later on? And besides, there are many horses who run in these early 2YO stakes who have only broken their maidens... would the Met Mile be a G1 if most of the competition had only a maiden win to their credit? I personally suggest having no more than a handful of G1s for 2YOs: The BC Juvenile races, the Hopeful, the Champagne, the Frizette, the Breeder's Futurity, the Hollywood Futurity, and the Hollywood Starlet. As for G1 races restricted to females, yes, there should be fewer of them. C'mon, let's not pretend that winning the Las Virgines is the same as winning the Santa Anita Derby. If you had to choose between owning the Garden City Breeder's Cup Handicap winner, or the United Nations Handicap winner, who would you choose?
bob More than 1 year ago
well, the committee could stop playing to the breeders (but wait, that's their constituency) and quit all the "inflation".......but frankly, my biggest complaint is grade one races run in mud and slop. they can't do it, obviously (run the race tomorrow, or next week...not fair or realistic) but it's not the medium (wet surface) that any breeder "designs" a mating for, nor is the most common dirt condition, and some top notch "fast" horses -----the ones that the fans, trainers, owners, and breeders think are good-----just won't run on it . MINE THE BIRD --STRIKE THE GOLD-----hey, why not let the committee regrade the races at the end of the year, or meet , or whatever.
Kyri More than 1 year ago
I agree with the issue, but not necessarily with the solution. I think most racing fans can see that most races restricted to females and 2 or 3YO are by definition not as tough as open races. A G1 for a restricted group is just that and there's nothing confusing about it. But sometimes you get a G1, and often a G2, open race where the field is really weak. We had a couple of these at the Hollywood Turf Festival. There is already a mechanism for reviewing and potentially downgrading races if they are taken off turf, so why not downgrade based on the participants' previous accomplishments? There could be a consistent formula used, like how many horses in the field have won G1, or have placed in G1, or have won G2 (just suggestions; maybe there's a better formula). Then if the winner turns out to set a stakes record or something, maybe the higher grade could be restored.
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
I don't think we need SG1 races, we need to downgrade a number of present G1 races, namely the ones that are prep races instead of destination races. And also a bunch of those F/M races in California that always draw the same 5 or 6 horses. A G1 should be special. It should be a race that horses are pointed for. An exception would be for the G1 Breeders Cup preps because not all horses are BC eligible and some of those "preps" are destination races. Also, regardless of the status of Blames's and Zen's races this year, both horses were pointed for the Classic all year and Blame won. That's like winning the Super Bowl. Blame is HOTY all the way!
Vince More than 1 year ago
Mike, Keep the race class designations just as they are. However, now that the race world is sold on the virtue of assigning subjective numbers (Beyer Figures) to each horse's performance, how about simply assigning a "power number" to each race that quantifies how strong each field is/was? I mean, heck, there are strong Maiden Special Weight fields and weak Maiden Special Weight fields. And, I've seen some Optional Claiming races that were tougher than added money stakes races. So, just rate each race with an additional power number. A Grade One race with a power number of 105 is/was a tougher race than a Grade One with a power number of 97. Further, these power numbers could be adjusted over time as we find out just how good some of those maiden race fields turned out to be.
sam Ludu More than 1 year ago
Mike: I don't believe in "grade inflation." We shouldn't have a new category of Grade 1 events. The AGSC simply has to be more rigorous in defining what a Grade 1 event is. For example, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, which is steadily declining in quality, should be downgraded to a Grade 2. Keeping it a Grade 1 event while, say, making the "competing" Arlington Million, which is also run in August, a Super Grade 1, doesn't make sense to me. Other Grade 1 events, in my judgment, have to be looked at with a cold, clinical eye. If we have a repeat of this year's dismal Woodward, in which Quality Road was the only runner with true Grade 1 ability, that storied Grade 1 might have to be looked at more dispassionately by the AGSC.