10/07/2010 1:12PM

Why Is The Jamaica A Grade 1 Race?


This is not the first year that Saturday's Jamaica Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds on the turf at Belmont Park carries Grade 1 status. It is the second. But it still feels wrong. And now, it feels like a perpetuation of an error.

Usually, I don't take much issue with the job the American Graded Stakes Committee does. But it was a mystery to not only me when this group elevated the 2009 running of the Jamaica to the highest level we know in the sport in this country. And I admit, I still don't understand why they did it.

The last five winners of the Jamaica were Take the Points, Court Vision, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Showing Up, and Watchmon. Some of those were nice horses, but none of them ring like top level Grade 1 performers, although Court Vision has made it a point to manage his infrequent victories in some big Grade 1 spots. So unlike the Arkansas Derby, which ironically was upgraded to Grade 1 a year after the Jamaica was, it isn't like the Jamaica simply had to be upgraded because it was being won year after year by top-notch race horses.

And the Graded Stakes Committee won't get much help in justifying maintaining Grade 1 status for the Jamaica from this year's field. The 11 entered in Saturday's Jamaica have made a total of 91 career starts, and only one - ONE! -  of those came in a Grade 1 event. That was from Admiral Alex, who finished last of 11 in the Travers - on dirt - beaten 31 1-2 lengths.

Some could argue that the reason why the entrants in the Jamaica have hardly any Grade 1 starts to their credit is because there are hardly any Grade 1 turf races for 3-year-olds. I would counter by saying that is reason enough for the Jamaica to not be a Grade 1 race. But there is a Grade 1 turf race for 3-year-olds that I can think of right off the top of my head: the Secretariat at Arlington Park. And the Secretariat strikes me as a far more legitimate Grade 1 race than the Jamaica because it is run in the middle of August when top 3-year-olds still compete within their age class. Moreover, the winners of the Secretariat traditionally go on to face older opponents in the fall. The Jamaica is run at a time of year - the fall - when 3-year-olds should be facing their elders. It seems convoluted, at this point in the season, to offer a Grade 1 reward to 3-year-olds who don't venture out of their age class.

But what I don't like is the fact that the Jamaica is a Grade 1 race while legitimate, major races like the Louisiana Derby, the Remsen, and the even the Suburban are not ranked as highly. And what bothers me the most about this is, the Jamaica, a race restricted to 3-year-olds on the turf run during a time of year when it is totally overshadowed by more than a dozen other races and which isn't even a direct lead-in to any Breeders' Cup event, is considered by the American Graded Stakes Committee to be on a par with the Breeders' Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby.