12/08/2009 6:28PM

Degrading

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The American Graded Stakes Committee last week changed the grades of 38 of the 487 graded stakes scheduled to be run next year, and the oft-maligned group deserves high marks on both the specifics and the general direction of those alterations:



Restoring the Grade 1 status of the Arkansas Derby and Clark Handicap, and giving graded status to the newly-Grade 3 Sunland Derby,  were the at the top of every critic's list of proposed changes. Upgrading the Vanderbilt to a Grade 1 at least created parity between the Saratoga and Del Mar sprint stakes, so that the Pat O'Brien, Bing Crosby, Vanderbilt and Forego are now all Grade 1's instead of the Vanderbil's being an orphan Grade 2.

Grade1a

It's also mildly encouraging that the committee anointed three new Grade 1's while downgrading five previous ones, a net loss of two Grade 1's. (Last year, they added six new Grade 1's while downgrading only one.) There are clearly too many Grade 1 stakes races on the calendar, with the foal crop down 40 percent from when there were slightly fewer Grade 1's a generation ago, and horses making fewer starts per year.

Some of the necessary further reductions on the sprawling graded-stakes calendar may take care of themselves without committee action. Santa Anita announced a 2010 stakes schedule last month that included the suspension of six graded stakes, and the New York Racing Association took the unusual step of announcing its 2010 stakes schedule only through April, suggesting further cuts are to come.

I'm still trying to make sense of the GSC's other announcement last week, that it is retracting the grades from the 2009 runnings of Pennsylvania's three graded stakes -- the G2 Cotillion, G2 Pennsylvania Derby and G3 Presque Isle Masters -- because the state did not follow the GSC's protocols for CO2 testing, which exceed state requirements.

Fortunately, the decision does not particularly damage the credentials of the three race winners: Informed Decision (Masters) is still a multiple G1 winner and the heavy favorite for the Filly Sprinter Eclipse Award; Gone Astray (Pennsylvania Derby) also won the G2 Ohio Derby (downgraded to a G3 for next year), and Careless Jewel won the G1 Alabama before winning the Cotillion. Still, the decision smacks of taking some of the purse money back from a race months after it has been run. The graded status of the races had something to do with their connections' decision to ship from out of state and run.

If the point was to punish Pennsylvania, it seems the GSC hit innocent bystanders instead of the deserving target, punishing deserving winners and their connections instead of those responsible for determining and administering the testing. Wouldn't it have been more fitting to withhold the grades for next year's runnings?

Don Reed More than 1 year ago
Re: The GSC's "retracting the grades from the 2009 runnings of PA 3 graded stakes -- G2 Cotillion, G2 PA Derby & G3 Presque Isle Masters...[PA] did not follow the GSC's protocols for CO2 testing..." I thought the decision was commendable & entirely consistent with the chorus of condemnation that the usual penalties in racing are a sick joke (trainers, while suspended, continue training by cel phone, etc.). In fact - it was astonishing. I was flabbergasted. Someone, somewhere in racing, actually thinks that breaking the rules should be punished? Talk about sucker-punching cynicism! You cannot have it both ways. Your choices: A) Hand down severe penalties that stun the offenders & warn others thinking about screwing around that if they get caught, they're dead; or, B) Continue with the usual corrupt practices. In this specific instance, the GSC went with "A." Good for them. Bad for the innocent connections? Yes - & GOOD! Now, they'll think twice about shipping to a state where the rules were given the bird. This will put all managements on notice ten thousand times more effectively than the previously toothless, contemptible admonitions of the insincere "enforcement" authorities.
Gharza More than 1 year ago
Your argument about there being too many Grade 1's is weak. America has the most diversified racing landscape in the world. We're equivalent to England, Ireland, France, Germany & Italy combined. Compare us to their Group I total, not Canada.
ponyman More than 1 year ago
Tampa Bay Downs--Everybody come on down. Enjoy sunshine & fun racing. Lot,s of hidden gems. Do your homework. Steve,if ever in area,I have a cocktail waiting for you. It would be my pleasure.
Robert Slifer More than 1 year ago
I think its a great idea to make it harder for horses to just pick spots to get "black type" for the future in the breeding shed heck in California there is a grade 3 every week that basically is a nw2 allowence race or a high class claimer. A classic example of what I call worthless black type is Zenzational this horse couldn't win ahigh class claimer against older horses in New York you ask why? They won't let him because somebody would soften him up and game would be over he beat nothing on the track and he will be the second coming of "Lazarus" in the breeding sheed and his baby's will cost 1 million dollars at the sale because of black type wins against overmatched 4 horse fields. Bob
SherpaGuide More than 1 year ago
NYRA announces anti-slaughter policy...thank you, a little late compared to my home track Suffolk and others, but thank you! Now enforce it!!
Jeff Tatus More than 1 year ago
I would have to concur w/Bruce Friday... bruce_friday says: "... I'm not much for changing rules after the fact. The conditions under which the grades were awarded were well known ahead of time and should have been honored. If I were the owner of one of the affected horses, I would be mad as hell, not at the GSC, but at the race track management who failed to execute their fiduciary responsibility regarding testing." Thanks Bruce for pointing out the ridiculous "error" (because the state did not follow the GSC's protocols for CO2 testing, which exceed state requirements) that will cause the winning connections money and prestige. If I were an "affected" owner, I would be looking into the State of PA's "Errors and Ommissions" insurance policy for some "payback." Congratulations to New Mexico; it was a long time coming and I can't think of a more deserving group of "horsemen" and/or "horsewomen"
Nick Briglia More than 1 year ago
Interesting article on drf.com about Theriot and Douglas. I've watched this race dozens of times and I'm still trying to find the hole that Theriot had to shoot for. Of course, there was a hole after he pushed Douglas out of the way. Whether it was intentional or not it was hideous race riding...
frank mitchell More than 1 year ago
Steve, You're spot on with both major points: 1) there are too many graded stakes, especially G1s and 2) the decision to lop off grades from races with errant CO2 restrictions is odd, perhaps wrong-headed. The TOBA is clearly trying to use the teeth given it through the Graded Stakes Committee to wake up management at tracks. Is this the best decision? Well, I would be mightily put out if I had shipped Filly X in to win the Cotillion or whatever, and then the grade was jerked months after the fact for no infraction on the owner's part ... or the trainer's. It is definitely getting response but perhaps not the right one. Time will tell. Frank.
sid fernando More than 1 year ago
Steve, You are right on the mark about the Pa Graded race fiasco. I, too, think that the wrong people are getting punished here by the GSC. The owners shipped to those races in good faith, and this decision could have adversely affected the Graded stakes-winning status of some. What if, for example, Gone Astray didn't win the G2 Ohio Derby? He'd then lose his status as a Graded SW because of the GSC. The right thing to do here would have been to suspend the Grades from the 2010 races, as you noted.
hoofprintsandhorseplay More than 1 year ago
Retract the 2009 Graded stakes from Philly Park ? Another crazy penalty in Thoroughbred racing which has way too many authorities with too much power. We need a Racing Czar - to finally oversee the silly decisions being made in racing all over North America.