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.