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Gulfstream Opener, Hopeful Downgrade
Hallandale Beach, FL -- I'm in sunny and windy Hallandale for the early Opening Day at Gulfstream Park today, and still reeling from the announcement yesterday that the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga has been downgraded to a Grade 2 race for 2012.
It's weird for Gulfstream to be opening on December 3 after decades of January or March (when Hialeah had the January-February dates) starts to the winter meeting, and it's going to be interesting to see what Gulfstream in December looks like. The opening-day card is a little thin, but the change of venue, the presence of some early-bird northern stables, and a couple of interesting 2-year-old races give it the feel of a start to winter racing rather than a mere relocation of the Calder meet. On balance it will probably work out for the best. as the April dates that now will go to Calder had a somewhat ghostly feel in recent years as the higher-quality stock left town for Keeneland a month before the end of the Gulfstream meet.
The opening-day stakes is the ungraded $100k Spectacular Bid at six furlongs for eight 2-year-olds. Luke of York, 2 for 2 on Polytrack, is the 5-2 ML favorite with G2 Nahua winner Vexor next at 3-1, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ancient Rome goes off favored by post time at much less than his 4-1 ML price. The Tony Dutrow-trained son of Roman Ruler was a 7 3/4-length maiden winner at Delaware last time at 3-to-10 and is nicely drawn outside the other speed in the race.
(If you're in the neighborhood, I'll be doing a free seminar and q-and-a session at Gulfstream in the Sport of Kings Room at the track Saturday starting at 11 a.m.)
It was a little surprising when the Spectacular Bid lost its G3 status a few years back, but nothing like the shock being felt in New York at the downgrading of the Hopeful to G2 status next year. The traditional closing-weekend feature of the Saratoga meeting, the Hopeful has long been the first Grade 1 race of the year in the east for 2-year-old males -- next year there won't be one until the Champagne the first weekend of October.
The Champagne will now also be the only Grade 1 dirt race for 2-year-old males next year outside of California, site of the Norfolk and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. All of the division's other Grade 1 races will be on synthetics (Del Mar Futurity, Breeders' Futurity, Hollywood Futurity) or grass (Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf).
There was a pleasing symmetry to the Grade 1 calendar for juveniles beginning almost simultaneously with the Del Mar Futurity and Del Mar Debutante in the west and the Hopeful and Spinaway in the east. The downgrade of the Hopeful upsets that balance and will only encourage people to start their 2-year-olds later and later.
It's also one for which no one was clamoring and doesn't seem particularly justified. This year's edition wasn't a stellar one, but it was just a year ago that Boys at Toscanova, who went on to be second in the BC Juvenile, and Stay Thirsty, who went on to win this year's Travers and Jim Dandy, were in the race. Why the rush to reduce it to the same graded status at the Saratoga meet as the With Anticipation, an over-graded juvenile grass race usually composed of maidens and second-time starters?
I also like to add that shortening of the great races to accomodate these extended sprinters has cheapen the HOY award. Rachel Alexandra, a superior sprinter but lacking classic distance ability hopefully is just an anomaly. But with Havre de Grace more than likely the winner of 2011 HOY, the trend does look bleak. Rachel and Havre, two horses lacking classic distance ability. By voting these horses as HOY, we are saying is that it's ok to keep breeding these superior sprinters and less than classic distance horses. Winning the 9 furlong Woodward somehow made you "great" when both Rachel and Havre would have lost if the Woodward was still 10 furlongs. At least Zenyatta showed her strength at the classic distance but it is sad she didn't enter more open G1 10 furlong races. The industry's tolerance for these mostly frail 9 furlong superior sprinters would assure it's status as a niche sport for years to come and it's survival questionable.
Too many Grade 1's. Grade 1 carries less weight when there are so many of them. Think about it. The Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup are Grade 1 not to mention Triple Crown races. So is the Prioress, Jenny Wiley and Cotillion. So winning the JCGC or Whitney or a Triple Crown race is equal to winning the Prioress, Jenny Wiley or Cotillion? Yeah right. I think any filly Triple Crown should be run at 1 and 1/8, 1 and 1/16, and 1 and 1/4 miles. Fillies shouldn't have to go as far as colts. The KY Oaks will always be 1 and 1/8 miles, the classic filly and mare distance. If it was up to me only the following would be Grade 1: Donn Handicap Santa Anita Handicap Arkansas Derby Florida Derby Wood Memorial Santa Anita Derby Blue Grass Kentucky Derby Preakness Belmont KY Oaks Met Mile Stephen Foster Haskell Travers Alabama Whitney Hollywood Gold Cup Woodward Jockey Club Gold Cup Goodwood Pacific Classic Arlington Million Beldame Personal Ensign Belmont's Turf Classic Champagne Breeders Futurity Norfolk Hollywood Futurity Vosburgh Forego Ancient Title
Hey Steve : Interesting comment you made about Calder. It may be my imagination but December at Calder seemed to be a window for early bird trainers to win with their 2 year old maidens against a considerably thinned out class. If they didnt make it, they merely transferred over to GP to try and win as 3 year olds, but against considerably classier outfits. Seems like GP in December now swallows that opportunity.
A number of commenters have tried to defend or explain the Hopeful downgrade by stating that recent fields have not been deep (and that's generally true) or that horses have only had one race and then run in the Hopeful (also generally true) or that there should not be any grade I races for 2YOs before the BC (which is a perfectly fine viewpoint, though not mine). But none of those views explain the differential treatment of the California races from the NY races. The Futurity and Norfolk, particularly the latter, face the same issues the Hopeful has faced. I'd complain less about the Hopeful downgrade if the Norfolk also was downgraded.
1. Rejecting Belmont for the next Breeders Cup, perhaps even the next two editions 2. Downgrading The Hopeful that is run during arguably the most poular meet among horsemen and bettors. There's an anti-New York bias in racing for some reason and I've had enough. If Repole wants to put together a day of racing at Belmont to compete against the Breeders Cup I will be there with full pockets.
I live in the West, but I too was shocked to see that the Hopeful was downgraded. Shocked. Like Steve mentioned, I hadn't even heard that this was a possibility. The Hollywood Turf Cup, sure. But not the Hopeful. Yes, it hasn't been particularly relevant towards the Triple Crown of late, or really even the Breeder's Cup or the 2 Year Old Eclipse, but the Hoepful winners and also-rans still constitute a solid group. Then, there is all the history. I will argue with those portraying the Hopeful fields as superior to the Del Mar Futurity fields over the last decade or two, but I will quickly concede the superiority of the Hopeful going back to the pre-Breeder's Cup era. In fact, before the 80s, the Hopeful towered over the Del Mar Futurity. The downgrade was a slap in the face of history and tradition. I also second what Chuck said about the lack of gr.1 races for open males at a classic distance back East. When I got into the sport in the late 80s, the Gulfstream Park Cap was a gr.1 at 10 furlongs, the Pimlico Special was just being revived, the Suburban and Brooklyn were gr.1s at 10 and 12 furlongs, the Woodward was a gr.1 at 10 furlongs, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a gr.1 at 12 furlongs. Only the JCGC, now at 10 furlongs, remains as a gr.1 race open for older males at 10 furlongs+. In contrast, especially since the Big Cap is back to dirt, the California handicap triple of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold, and Pacific Classic now stands as the most important series for older horses at the classic distance. As a side, Lava Man's sweep of the series(and Goodwood) in 2006, repeat sweep of the Big Cap-Gold Cup double in 07, and 3 straight Gold Cups(05-07; at one point he had won 6 of the 7 races in the series from the 05 Gold Cup to 07 Gold Cup) were perhaps the most underappreciated achievements of the last decade. Lava Man couldn't ship and he beat questionable competition, but you can make the argument that no horse has dominated the series like he did(and his consistent Beyers in the 109-113 range, with a top of 120, look alot better in retrospect).
The Hopeful may not be what it once was, but there's no reason to downgrade it, whilst keeping the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland at Grade I. And don't get me started about the Blue Grass...
It's puzzling to say the least.Personally I think they should downgrade all the synth races.
The downgrade of the Hopeful Stakes is unfortunately consistent with the future of flat racing in the USA. In Europe or Japan, there are larger money stakes and will eventually draw the better horses from around the world, especially the USA. The fans love races with big money. Remember when Round Table ran on dirt or grass and carried over 132 lbs in some of his races. This was exciting racing. The feeling cannot be recreated on TVG or some other broadcast or a off-site betting establishment. In "Field of Dreams" the theory was you build the field and they will come. Same is true of high $$$ stakes. The downgrade is bad for racing. The Hopeful is only as good as the horses running and if the track doesn't make it enticing or worth the Grade 1 status, the good horses won't come and the racetrack patronage will go down as well. Owners, tracks and the media all harp on the delicate place that thoroughbred bred is in because of the expense of breeding, foaling and training of horses. Downgrading any significant race only downgrades racing as a whole. It's disappointing. I used to love the excitement of a real handicap race at the track. I used to go to just see these amazing horses. Nowadays so many of the horses have similar sires and dams based on the racing careers of these horses. Did anyone know Khalid before Swaps ... who held world records for many years. He wasn't a formulated horse. Take the Horse of the Century Secretariat. How are you going to duplicate the physical characteristic of an enlarged heart that pumped more blood than a typical thoroughbred. His progeny never neared his talent. Gambling is a risk and the source for that risk is good horses.
I would like to know the average field size for the last 10 years of hopeful. does anyone know? If i recall usually it comes up REAL short. Nobody seems to want to enter ALL these 2yr New York races. If i recall the dirt races are terrible for a bettor. Trainers might bruise there record!