03/13/2012 5:27PM

Derby Graded Earnings Rule - Again


For years now, yours truly, and others, have talked about the flaws in the Kentucky Derby graded earnings rule, which mandates that the 20 starters in an oversubscribed Derby field will be determined on earnings in graded stakes events. Some of us have even proposed ways to improve the rule, such as:

• Devaluing graded earnings in some 2-year-old stakes (the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile would be one of a few obvious exceptions) so as to put a premium on 3-year-old graded stakes earnings.

• Devaluing graded earnings in sprint races so as to put a premium on graded earnings in route races.

• And devaluing graded earnings in turf and synthetic track races so as to put a premium on graded earnings in races run on dirt, the surface on which the Derby is run.

These proposals, and others similar to them, are as old as the Derby graded earnings debate itself. But as time goes on, and the graded earnings rule remains unchanged, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that Churchill Downs likes the rule just the way it is, warts and all. Hey, debate over the faults of this rule means people are talking about the Derby, and any talk about the Derby I’m sure is just fine with the folks at Churchill. The more talk, the better.

[KENTUCKY DERBY: View full graded earnings list]

But lately, it seems we have entered a new phase of the Derby graded earnings rule issue. Perhaps it has crystallized this year, because for the first time, the Derby will allow up to as many four also eligibles (so will the Kentucky Oaks) at the time of entry. These also eliglbles will be ranked in order of preference on the basis of graded earnings, which puts an even greater emphasis on graded earnings than ever before. So now it appears the connections of Kentucky Derby aspirants are, with little choice, I might add, strategizing with graded earnings in mind as much as other, seemingly more important factors.

Consider Bodemeister. Bodemeister ran in last Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes off of only a (very impressive) maiden victory, in part because he was the barn’s ready replacement for Fed Biz, who had to be withdrawn due to physical issues, and in part because he had zero graded stakes earnings, and he needed to collect as much of that as he could as soon as possible if he was to secure a starting spot in the Derby. By running in the San Felipe, Bodemeister, a colt who making only his third career start, was being asked a lot, and quickly.

But moving up fast was the only thing Bodemeister could do if he was to remain a viable candidate for the Derby. The weird thing is, while he earned $60,000 Saturday for finishing a game second, he is still in a precarious position, graded earnings-wise. Yet on the basis of performance, Bodemeister is currently one of the top Derby win threats out there. At this point, he is the only leading contender to have earned two triple-digit Beyer Figures. In any case, you just have to hope that rushing Bodemeister doesn’t wind up setting him back.

Then there is Gemologist. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, so he is currently in okay position on the graded earnings list at around 17th after you strip away unlikely Derby starters. Being in that position enables Gemologist to make his 3-year-old debut Friday in an allowance race at Gulfstream instead of going after $500,000 in graded stakes money in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, a tougher race for sure, but one that would have been much more definitive in determining Gemologist’s real Derby status.

The graded earnings rule also seems to be increasingly propagating the number Derby horses who engage in only two prep starts at 3. Under the current graded earnings rule, several colts who are already safely in the Derby after amassing sizeable graded earnings at 2 don’t have to prep at 3 with the same frequency or urgency as those who aren’t in as fortunate a position. That should work fine for a colt like Union Rags, who is undeniably one of the best members of his generation. But you could wonder how it will work for more marginal Derby hopefuls such as Dullahan, and Sabercat.

With the days of the 20 horse Kentucky Derby looking like they are here to stay, we must become comfortable with the role of graded earnings in determining the composition of the Derby field. It also appears we must learn to live with the fact that now, graded earnings, and where they can be most effectively collected, is as important a factor in the development of an early 3-year-old with potential as is selecting the two or three prep races that might actually best fit the horse. But if this is the new normal, then we should also have a graded earnings rule most of us can be comfortable with, too - an amended, updated, focused graded earnings rule that produces the strongest Kentucky Derby field possible.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks for continuing to bring up this issue. The entire graded stakes system is a joke. My proposal would be to divide the earnings by the grade of the race. i.e. $1 million race is worth $600K to the winner as it's a grade I, if the race was a grade II it would only be worth $300K in graded earnings and a grade III would be worth $200K. 2 year old races would count half as much as 3 year old races. Bottomline, Gr I's should be worth more than Gr III's and 3 year old races should be worth more than races run at 2. Turf prep races should not count towards graded earnings. that's my proposal
Ian King More than 1 year ago
The system works as it is, cheap horses ,expensive ones, they cost about the same to feed. I'm sure the connections all purchase their stock w/ the Derby in mine. The road to the tripple Crown begun since thier 2yo career, it's no ones fault a horse like bode' came around late! More over it's the Trainers responsibility to place horses acordingly!
SR Vegas More than 1 year ago
Mike I enjoyed this perspective, and the comments that have come from it. Some really good thoughts. I for one do not know what the solution is , but enjoyed reading your thread and comments. Keep up the good work SR Vegas PS ... all you anonymous posters, put a name to the end of your post . This new system does not always get your name or monikor in the heading of your post :)
jimf552 More than 1 year ago
First and foremost, eliminate the graded earnings restricted to fillies. Then maybe move to a point system determined by the grade and distance of the race.
TravisStone More than 1 year ago
It's not about keeping horses out but rather allowing horses who are peaking around the right time to not have to rush or pinch to get earnings. The idea of peaking in the Derby for many horses is nonexistent because they have to be pushed earlier for earnings. And ultimately there are many races out there which should probably be considered less in terms of distance or surface or timing.
ML-NJ More than 1 year ago
The world wouldn't (and didn't) end if the Derby had more than 20 starters, but if there has to be a limit why not restrict the race to the top four (or whatever) Derby nominated finishers in each of five races to be specified by some exaulted committee. Currently the five races would be the Wood, the Florida Derby, the Bluegrass, the Arkansas Derby, and the Santa Anita Derby. AEs could be based upon also ran positions in these races and/or lifetime earnings.
Hector Lebron More than 1 year ago
I strongly dislike this graded earnings rule as it would have made ineligible such horses as Cañonero II due to his meager earnings in Venezuela.
ML-NJ More than 1 year ago
If Canonero hadn't been eligible, I might have cashed my bet in the only Derby I attended live!
michael_alunni More than 1 year ago
I kinda like to reduce the value of 2YO earnings instead of eliminating them, maybe you get credit for 1/2 of a Gr 1 purse, less for a Gr 2 or 3 purse. For sprint earnings a similaiar reduction could be made, Derby is 10f so distance under a mile could be reduced - 6f you earn 60%, 6.5f you earn 65%, etc, etc I think the surface should not matter As far as field size, 16 max with 4 AEs - so we still basically have the top 20
wilson varga More than 1 year ago
First: If SECRETARIAT had had to run around 19 others in going from last place, we would likely be remembering him in the 1973 Derby as one of the also rans behind SHAM. 20 horses are 6 too many. This years Also Eligible list will sadly guarantee that 20 make it to the post. Second: There are no immediate disincentives for the wannabes connections to run: their entry fees --already too low for America's premier race -- are the same as for the legit contenders; the draw for post-position takes into account none of the graded stakes earnings criteria, whereas others have proposed to let earnings be recognized with post selection priority. Andy Beyer has written about how many marginal runners, unprepared for the 20-horse Derby, never return to pre-Derby form, but the wannabe connections apparently are not so influenced. Third: if CD, PIM, and BEL managements behave parochially, one would expect the broadcast network(s) or their advertisers to see the benefits in fixing a broken Triple Crown series. Alas, there seem to be no adults in charge anywhere. There'll likely not be a Triple Crown winner again as long as 20 enter the Derby.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More worrisome of me is the proliferation of races counting so much, say Sunland Derby, Illinois Derby, Delta Jackpot. You get almost as much as winning the Illinois Derby as coming in second in the Santa Anita Derby...that's crazy. A point system would work better. It would correct for the money some tracks are throwing around. Let's face it, if I owned a border line horse and wanted derby seats, I'm circling these above races and chartering a van.