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Monday, March 5, 2012

Time to Make the Grade

For the handicapper who may not be familiar with individual tracks, it may be hard to gauge if an Early Closer, Late Closer or Invitational race is a race for the best horses in the nation, the second tier horses in the nation, or the best horses in the local area.  With some tracks having so much slot money that they can just throw it around and some tracks depending on wagering to determine a race's purses, the old guideline of just looking at the purse to tell the quality of the race doesn't apply anymore.  What harness racing needs is a system to quantify the typical type of horse a race draws.  We need to grade our bigger events.

I know this is an issue that harness racing has been discussing for years but it is time for the industry to finally take a hold of the issue and once and for all resolve it by instituting a grading system as soon as possible.  It would benefit racing fans, gamblers, and purchasers of yearlings by being able to accurately determine the level of competition a horse, or a sire's offspring have faced.

Can't be done?  Tell me why not?  They are able to grade standardbred races in Europe and Australasia, they can grade thoroughbred races world wide, and they can grade quarter horse races in North America.  If every other breed can grade races and including standardbred races outside North America, why can't we here?     It clearly is not rocket science.  Don't know what factors to consider when grading a race?  Send an email to racing officials in the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand to find out the criteria they use to determine their grading of races.

Afraid of egos being hurt, such as Yonkers Raceway having the Yonkers Trot being ranked as a Grade II event even though it is a Triple Crown event?  Then I suggest Yonkers look at their staking fees as many of Yonkers stake races have a high cost of nominating, sustaining, and starting fees.  Despite what some people say, many horses avoid Yonkers not because it is a half mile oval, but the fact it costs too much to enter a race.  If the race conditions were changed, perhaps the better horses will nominate and start in the races.  The Meadows doesn't want to see the Adios ranked as a grade II or III event or the Meadowlands finding that their Oliver Wendell Holmes race may not be more than a grade III race?  It is what it is.

When it comes to stakes races we are talking about the standardbred industry throughout the nation, not just in New York, New Jersey, or Delaware.  We should be able to work together.  While I certainly would not suggest I can come up with the perfect grading system, let me propose the following as a starting point for discussion.

  1. State-bred or races otherwise restricted by place of foaling or off-spring of particular foals shall not be graded.  Only races non-restricted are to be considered.
  2. All eliminations and late closing events which are restricted by number of wins or earnings as of a certain date are not eligible for grading.  A late closing event must have at least two preliminary legs to be graded.
  3. Races that have not been contested for two consecutive years at the same track will not be eligible for grading.  Once graded, the race's grading shall be reviewed every three years.
  4. When determining the caliber of horses contesting a race for purposes of grading, all state or otherwise restricted race earnings shall not be considered.
  5. Breeders Crown finals and any 'International' races will be automatically considered a Grade I race even if raced at different tracks each year. 
  6. Races which are contested in divisions may not be graded above Grade II. 
  7. Races where the fields are limited to the highest money earners over a period of time (ideally ignoring restricted races) which have consolation races for those who don't qualify for the actual stakes race will have their consolation races graded in descending fashion starting a level below the actual stakes race.  For example, if the Battle of the Brandywine is graded as a Grade I race, the first consolation would be Grade II and the second consolation would be Grade III.  If the Battle of the Brandywine was graded as a Grade II race, the first consolation would be ranked as Grade III and the second consolation would be ungraded.
  8. If the format, conditions, or track changes, the race will be regraded after the first year of the race being contested using the new conditions or at the new venue.
It isn't hard to grade races at all.  All we need is for egos to be checked at the door.

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