10/13/2013 2:39PM

Closer Look at the Breeders' Futurity, Alcibiades


Given that Saturday's stakes action was on the light side - Kitten's Dumplings (Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup), Za Approval (Knickerbocker), and Pianist (Athenia) were all nice, if perfect trip winners of the day's three graded events - I thought I would revisit a question posed in this space last week. That question was, how do Keeneland's Dixiana Breeders' Futurity and Darley Alcibiades remain Grade 1 races?

Right here, I should say that I think the grading of our stakes races is a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise, and has proven useful over many years in various ways within the industry. But if we are going to assign graded rankings to races, they should be as accurate and unbiased as possible, hence the question concerning the current status of the Breeders' Futurity and Alcibiades.

The Breeders' Futurity and Alcibiades used to be absolutely top-notch races, but the perception is the quality of these events has dropped decidedly below Grade 1 standards in recent years, not coincidentally with the transition of Keeneland's main track from dirt to Polytrack in the fall of 2006. However, we all know how perception can sometimes bear little resemblance to reality, so I thought a closer examination was in order.

I went back and looked at the 2009 to 2012 runnings of the Breeders' Futurity and Alcibiades as they were the most recent examples where we also have a reasonable sample of subsequent performance. Subsequent performance - obviously we don't have any yet for the renewals run last week - is the key phrase here. With only three or four Grade 1 opportunities for 2-year-olds before the Breeders' Futurity and Alcibiades, and literally a myriad of Grade 1 opportunities in the months and years after, it is subsequent performance that determines whether these races are worthy of Grade 1 status.

Let's take a look at the Breeders' Futurity first, beginning with the winners in this four year sample. I compiled their post-Breeders Futurity record in stakes races of any kind (from Grade 1's all the way down to restricted stakes), and I also compiled their subsequent record in all starts on dirt, so as to get a picture of whether these winners proved to be primarily synthetic/turf performers.

Joha (2012): 0 for 7 in stakes, 0 for 1 on dirt.

Dullahan (2011): 2 for 13 in stakes (they were the Grade 1 Blue Grass and Grade I Pacific Classic), 0 for 3 on dirt.

J. B.'s Thunder (2010): 0 for 2 in stakes, 0 for 1 on dirt.

Noble's Promise (2009): 2 for 19 in stakes (the biggest win was the Grade 3 Aristides), 2 for 13 on dirt.

To expand the sample, and considering that they ran well enough to hit the board, I added in the subsequent performance records of those who finished second and third in these four Breeders' Futurities. Keep in mind, out of all of those who finished worse than third, there were one or two who had a bit of subsequent success. But opening the sample to all starters would have made the study too unwieldy for purposes of this discussion, and frankly wouldn't have changed the outcome much. That's why I kept it to the top three finishers. Anyway, here are the subsequent performance totals I came up with for each year:

2012: 3 for 21 in stakes (one of these wins was Java's War's victory in the Grade 1 Blue Grass), 1 for 8 on dirt.

2011: 5 for 45 in stakes, 0 for 15 on dirt.

2010: 5 for 26 in stakes, 1 for 5 on dirt.

2009: 4 for 36 in stakes, 9 for 45 on dirt (notably, four of those nine wins came in claiming races by one horse).

Four year totals: 17 for 128 in stakes, 11 for 73 on dirt.

Notes and conclusion: Of the 128 subsequent stakes starts made by the 12 horses who finished first, second, and third in these four recent Breeders' Futurities, only three proved to be wins in Grade 1 races, and all three of those wins came on Polytrack (two at Keeneland, one at Del Mar). I do think it is fair to question whether that is enough for the Breeders' Futurity to maintain its Grade 1 ranking. The subsequent dirt record is also telling, especially if you eliminate those four dirt claiming wins. It does appear the Breeders' Futurity is the property of surface specialists. That in itself shouldn't weaken its case for Grade 1 status, but it does when taken in combination with what we found to be subsequent stakes performance.

I gave the same treatment to the Alcibiades:

Spring in the Air (2012): 1 for 8 in stakes, 0 for 1 on dirt.

Stephanie's Kitten (2011): 5 for 9 in stakes (one was the Grade 1 Just A Game, and three others were Grade 2 scores), no starts on dirt.

Wickedly Perfect (2010): Made no other starts.

Negligee (2009): 0 for 6 in stakes, no starts on dirt.

Now, here are the totals adding in the second and third place finishers:

2012: 1 for 25 in stakes, 0 for 9 on dirt

2011: 5 for 16 in stakes, 0 for 4 on dirt.

2010: 1 for 7 in stakes, 0 for 4 on dirt.

2009: 3 for 21 in stakes (one of these wins was She Be Wild's victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Oak Tree at Santa Anita when that track still had a synthetic surface), 1 for 9 on dirt.

Four year totals: 10 for 69 in stakes, 1 for 26 on dirt.

Notes and conclusion: As is the case with the Breeders' Futurity, it appears the Grade 1 ranking of the Alcibiades has been maintained thanks greatly to the exploits of two horses, in this case Stephanie's Kitten and She Be Wild. Of the 12 fillies we looked at, these two accounted for the only two subsequent Grade 1 wins, and three of the five subsequent Grade 2 wins. There were no Grade 3 wins. Whether that is enough to keep a race a Grade 1 is certainly open to question. Also like the Breeders' Futurity, it is noteworthy that the two subsequent Grade 1 wins, and four of the five subsequent Grade 2 wins, came on either turf or synthetic surfaces. The subsequent dirt record is even more striking than the corresponding one for the Breeders' Futurity. So like the Breeders' Futurity, the Alcibiades has been a race owned by surface specialists.

Dave More than 1 year ago
To be fair I think all two year old stake races should not have graded status. These two year olds are only babies and they rarely carry their juvenile form to their three year olds. The only race where you can make an exception is the Breeders Cup Juvenile.
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
Isn't this more of an indictment against synthetic racing? For or against it, the reality is, it's now a part of the game. So, shouldn't synthetic racing have it's grade 1's and is it truly appropriate to compare how they do in dirt afterward, when some are just, synthetic specialists. Did Dullahan downgrade the Pacific Classic by winning it and doing little on dirt?
Drew More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the grade-1 study. I think its fair to say the horses in these races are synthetic specialists, but if a trainer knows his horse likes polytrack then he will enter in those races. I think it should keep G1 status since they are the feature 2yo races at a major track and have been running for a long time. We all know all G1s are not created equal. Winning The BC Classic is not the same as winning the Stephen Foster. and judging G1s by future performace is shaky, look how we have seen Triple Crown races won by horses who never won much of anything after that - Mine That Bird, Super Saver, Jazil, Sarava
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
The thing is, you cannot assess 2yo races like these on past performance, because there isn't enough of it. It has to be on future performance.
Drew More than 1 year ago
Yes that is true...
Whit More than 1 year ago
I think the research just points to what we've all known--these preps just aren't really solid anymore and don't deserve their G1 status. But I do think some "reverse research" could be beneficial in trying to figure out how many of the winners of each of the stakes races that the poly-winners missed on were even stakes placed as 2 year olds. In other words, I think the trend in general has been that most of the two year olds everywhere that were great at age two (minus Street Sense and several others) ended up being disappointing at age three and beyond. On the flip side, most of the better three, four and five year olds now weren't factors as juveniles and were late bloomers for the most part.
John McNiff More than 1 year ago
It's exactly the same as why the Bluegrass is no longer a meaningful prep for the KY Derby. Keeneland even more than most poly tracks is pretty unique and a Keeneland win don't mean a thing on other surfaces at other tracks.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
How the horse do in subsequent starts on dirt is irrelevant. That would be like taking the winner of a Grade 1 dirt race in the US and saying the validity of the Grade should be verified by how the horse do in Dubai on World Cup day or in grass racing in Europe.
Whit More than 1 year ago
I thnk that's a fair point, but for every one example of Animal Kingdom, etc, going to Europe or Dubai to run, there are literally hundreds of starters that exemplify what this article is getting at. The point is that these races aren't really producing champion horses or sires at a rate that's anywhere near comparable to other grade 1s. But there are certainly good counter-arguments to what MW is trying to say, including yours.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Mike, that's a great case you've made, now let me set the odds for ANY Keeneland stakes being dropped in category. Hmmmm, the odds are ZERO. This is the breeders' track; this is where they invade to take down breeding credits, which influence the value of their stock. One of the greatest angles for selecting a Keeneland winner is to focus on the local breeders' entries. Unless you blindly bet Ramsey (who is a local breeder.) I am not saying these are the most cynical people in the business. I'm just saying that it is in their best interests to tag a horse with a Grade 1 win and they control the game at the highest levels.
Jaime Dubyna More than 1 year ago
Might as well drop the Blue Grass Stakes while you are at it.
JeffSteffn More than 1 year ago
bluegrass runners make a much bigger impact on the Triple crown trail than people realize
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
As you're questioning the graded status of these races, how about taking a look at the Sunland Derby, and running the same number exercise for that race. The Sunland Derby is an example of throw up a big purse, and I do mean throw up, and you get graded status. It is nothing more than a regional ship for southern CA trainers to send a decent horse loaded with speed and now get a KY Derby starter. The winners list of this race reads like a Who's Not in racing. There is no logic in this race having grade 3 status. There is less logic in this race giving 50 points to the winner, which is now basically a win and your in the Ky Derby. So how about running the numbers on this atrocity.
Drew More than 1 year ago
Sunland deserves a G3 rating. They had that big purse ungraded for awhile but now the quality is better. Mine That Bird ran 4th in that race.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
So for you it's only about the size of the purse? You say the quality is better now. Give one example. Just one winner since the inception of the race and a good argument why the winner of this race deserves to get a pass into the KY Derby.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
the fake tracks are a disgrace to the hard boots.