06/18/2012 10:39AM

Royal Delta, the Foster, and the Derby Points System


Race dynamics are like fingerprints. No two are exactly the same. They can be similar, but not identical. That’s why it is always risky business saying that such and such a horse could have won a certain race if he or she ran in it instead of another race. That said, on Sunday morning, I doubt anyone didn’t at least for a moment think this:

Royal Delta ran in the wrong race Saturday night.

On a clear Saturday evening at Churchill Downs where weather had absolutely no impact on the proceedings, Royal Delta tracked an early Fleur De Lis Handicap pace of 23.71 and 47.70, took over at will late on the far turn, and drew off under while wraps most of the rest of the way. She won by eight, getting her final furlong in 12.99 to complete the nine furlongs in 1:49.49.

Thirty-five minutes later, ostensibly tougher male handicap horses contested the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. The first two splits of the Foster were very similar to that of the Fleur De Lis, 23.66 and 47.27. But as Wise Dan, who lost the Foster photo to Ron the Greek, and Nates Mineshaft, who finished a close third after setting the pace, zig-zagged all over the track in the stretch from fatigue, the final furlong of the Foster required an astoundingly slow 14.18 seconds. That, combined with a fourth quarter mile run in 25.38 meant that the final three furlongs of the Foster was run in an interminable 39.56, making for a final time of 1:50.51.

Of course, I’m not in any way suggesting that the connections of Royal Delta made a mistake by not running her in the Foster. There is just no way that Bill Mott, who trains both Royal Delta and Ron the Greek, could have known these races would play out the way they did. Besides, the big thing for Royal Delta Saturday was just getting her season back on track. And in fairness, no one really knows how Royal Delta would have handled a faster third quarter mile in the Foster than the one she encountered in the Fleur De Lis, although I doubt it would have made any difference. But how can anyone not think that Royal Delta would have won that Foster by about five lengths?

There are things to take away from these two races. For one, this Foster field was billed beforehand as being one of the deepest handicap fields assembled this year, and rightfully so. The only major two-turn older male I can think of who wasn’t in the race was Game On Dude. But while I respect Ron the Greek for being an opportunist (he also took advantage of a total pace meltdown when he won the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year), and know that Wise Dan is capable of running much faster than he did Saturday night, and suspect that Alternation just has to be better than his non-effort in the Foster would suggest, it’s tough not to feel like many have felt all year: This group of older males just isn’t very strong. About the best you can say about them is they are entertaining, which is a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.

Royal Delta? That’s another story. She showed true brilliance on occasion during her championship 3-year-old filly campaign last year, and she was all of that again in the Fleur De Lis. Strangely, a lot of folks seemed to write her off this year. People were down on her after she was walloped by Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes in her first start this year, forgetting that was merely a prep for her goal of the Dubai World Cup. And I know it was difficult to see because the camera work was so awful, but I saw Royal Delta get checked all over track in Dubai. In any case, if Royal Delta were mine, and the handicap division doesn’t suddenly and unforeseeably get a lot better than it is now,  I would have no hesitation going after races like the Whitney, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup with her.

I know it’s a little late, but this is my first chance to weigh in with my thoughts on the new Kentucky Derby points system, announced last week. For many years, yours truly has called for the Derby’s previous graded stakes earnings rule to be improved by emphasizing 3-year-old earnings over 2-year-old earnings (with a couple of notable exceptions such as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), and emphasizing route earnings over sprint earnings, among other things. Frankly, I never thought Churchill Downs would ever do anything to address the matter, suspecting they kind of liked the controversy because it generated discussion.

But while I commend Churchill for trying to improve, this new system is a bit of a mess. As others have noted, I find the biggest problem with it to be that it is chronologically driven. I guess it was easier to classify Derby preps by when they are run as opposed to actually determining their real strength and impact, which would have taken some work. The devaluation of such important late season 2-year-old two turn races as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Remsen, Churchill’s own Kentucky Jockey Club, and the CashCall Futurity is wrong, and to suggest that these races have one-fifth of the value of the Gotham, the Tampa Bay Derby, the Rebel, and the Sunland Derby is just ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous is that England’s Royal Lodge stakes gets any points at all, or that the UAE Derby is classified as a prime prep on the order of the Arkansas, Florida, and Santa Anita Derbies, and Wood Memorial. Couldn’t we wait until at least one horse comes out of the UAE Derby and runs even a decent race in Kentucky before we anoint it a 100 pointer?

The cleanest way to have gone about this was to reward established, successful routes to the Derby, such as the Southern California, Florida, and Arkansas paths to Churchill Downs. Instead, often important early 3-year-old preps as the Sham, Robert B. Lewis, Holy Bull, and Southwest are deemed no more important than the Royal Lodge (ugh), the Grey, and the Delta Downs Jackpot. Sorry, that’s nuts.

Finally, whether intentional or not, there is a scent of politics at play here. Could the inexplicable valuation of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have something to do with Churchill’s unfulfilled wish to be permanent host of the Breeders’ Cup? I don’t think the Illinois Derby is a major Kentucky Derby prep, but it should be worth some points. Could assigning no points to that race have something to do with Illinois racing dates?

Then again, if the Illinois Derby was made an official prep, it would have had to have been a 100 pointer because of when it is run. That would have been silly, of course, but assigning it fewer points wouldn’t have fit chronologically, and might have blown up the system. Some might think that wouldn't have been the worst outcome.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
they made this point system overcomplicated - while the graded earings at times seemed a bit unfair I came up with this system - mike what do you think about this pt system as a general idea points would be given regardless if running at 2yo or 3yo and or time of calander year when its run races at or under 1 mile (dirt and syn) grade 1s 40-20-10-5 grade 2's 20-10-5-2 grade 3's 10-5-2-1 overnite stk 5-3-2-1 races over 1mile (dirt and syn) grade 1's 80-40-20-10 grade 2's 40-20-10-5 grade 3's 20-10-5-2 overnite sk 10-5-2-1 all turf races grade 1's 30-15-7-3 grade 2's 15-7-5-2 grade 3's 10-5-2-1
Stephen Taylor More than 1 year ago
Haven't checked in in a while but my take on the point system. CD already has a point system for their Derby game with a "double point system" built in. Here's my take: Use the point system in place with Double points on 2 turn dirt races for 3yo males. "
Speedjama More than 1 year ago
Hey Mike - You thoughts on the point system makes a lot of sense, why didn't the horse people think of that - duh -opps, I nearly forgot who I was talking abou.
Bob Jones More than 1 year ago
You've got it right on the new Derby system Mike. It is obviously biased and self-serving and a complete mess. Maybe get a few people that know a little more about actual horse racing in on the process because this one stinks.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Agree on Royal Delta running against the boys the rest of the year, but first, I would go next with her in the Delaware Handicap on July 21 against her own sex. That race at $750,000 is the richest non-BC race in the sport for older females. Also, I suspect Mott may want to try for a Whitney-Pacific Classic double with Ron The Greek since he's already beaten the top horses in So. Cal. I suspect Mott tries to have Royal Delta become the second filly in as many years to win the Woodward and then maybe runs both her and Ron The Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup since that race is still supposed to be the most important in the sport other than the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.
victor More than 1 year ago
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Royal Delta won in a common gallop and her effort resembled a workout more than a race; actually a breeze more than a workout. Not often you see something like that. Yeah, go take on the males. Lots of upside there.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Count on this, forever- barring complications, Billy Mott is not gonna stray from his plan, ever.
Rob More than 1 year ago
Um Steve there is a race in July at Del park for filly's that is worth a million I think that is the next logical step for Royal Delta.
Arthur Spalding More than 1 year ago
Churchill is driving the triple crown and that's not right even if their race is the first and most important leg. This is not NASCAR and we dont need this. The Jackpot is the jewel at Delta on their most important day and Churchill in one sweeping move has made it irrevelant. I attended CD Saturday night and luckily won enough money to be able to leave. 10 bucks general admission...20 bucks to park and 6 for a beer..I had to hit a couple of races to cover that not to mention the gooseneck on departure. Piss on CD
Greg Stevens More than 1 year ago
Let's be honest...the new system does suck, but the delta jackpot has zero effect on the derby...they also down graded the SPIRAL at turfway, which has produced a Derby winner and 4th place finisher in the last 2 years...point is everyone complained about the system so they changed it.....now everyone complains cuz it doesn't suit them...if the system was on place this year the same field would have hit the starting gate except trinniberg .....and Churchill isn't controlling the triple crown, just the Derby....if u don't like it, then stay at delta and try to hit the "JACKPOT"
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
I do not believe Royal Delta would have beaten males by five. she might have run a tough race and gutted out a decision or been beaten close. in part due to the 2 second faster 3/4 split and in part due to her being in with more physically imposing males. never dismiss the psychological aspects of racing for horses - yes some fillies and mares can beat males - but I think that is more exception than rule - at least here in the US where they are generally kept apart. as to the points system aside from the snub to the Illinois Derby and the inclusion of the UAE Derby - I like the new system. I don't think 2 year old races and races under a mile should count. let's look at recent and long. this will encourage owners to take more time with their horses at two and to breed horses to stay more than to just flash speed. generally some kind of point system makes more sense than cash - some tracks can offer inflated purses due to having slots or gaming on-site and this has zero to do with the quality of the race.