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Friday, December 14, 2012

Making the Grade - Part 1

VFTRG contributor Joe F. takes to heart what Dean Towers said about grading stakes racees and offers his list of graded stakes for aged pacers and aged pacing mares.

In a recent issue of HRU Dean Towers made a case for resurrecting the effort to grade our stakes races the way the t-bred folks do. I suspect that, along with many others, I hold an an unbuttoned grading system in my head. The following is an attempt to give shape to it.
One factor that makes this task difficult is the fact that there is no correlation between purse money and the quality of the horses starting in a given stakes race. In the case of sire stakes racing this is obvious, but it actually runs throughout the sport. For instance, The Red Mile gets a lot for its money; they consistently draw very strong fields for relatively short money. The physical track itself, the parallel Tattersalls Sale, the timing of the meet, and historical precedent are a few of the contributing factors. Yonkers Raceway, on the other hand, gets very little for its money. Year after year, a handful of colts are nominated to the Messenger, despite a $400,000 purse. The Tattersalls Pace final carried a $500,000 purse. You had to race heats and face a 12-horse field in the final to access it this year. The Messenger featured a six-horse field in 2011 and only five in 2010.

Is grading stakes races an idea that could gain traction in the standardbred world? I don’t think so. One couldn’t in good conscience designate the Courageous Lady, Battle of Lake Erie or Cleveland Classic grade I stakes, but management at Northfield would certainly howl about it if you didn’t. Politics would rule the day.
Here’s my take on the aged pacers and trotters. This is simply my personal opinion and a starting point for discussion.

Aged Horse & Gelding Pacers
Grade 1

Bettor’s Delight—Tioga—June--$300,000
William Haughton—Meadowlands—August--$431,000 in 2012
Allerage—Lexington—October--$155,000 in 2012
Canadian Pacing Derby—Mohawk—September--$787,000 in 2012
Breeders Crown—October--$550,000
Graduate—Meadowlands—May--$180,000 in 2012
US Pacing Championship—Meadowlands—August--$242,000 in 2012

Grade 2
Levy—Yonkers—spring--$455,000 final in 2012
Molson—Western Fair—May--$300,000
Battle of Lake Erie—Northfield--$111,000 in 2012
Quillen—Harrington—September--$216,000 in 2012
Des Smith—Rideau Carleton—July--$176,500
Mohawk Gold Cup—June--$100,000
Indiana Pacing Derby—November--$200,000
American-National—Balmoral--November--$182,000 in 2012
Dan Patch Invitational—Hoosier Park—June--$200,000 in 2012

Grade 3
Winbak Farm Pace—Delaware, Ohio—September--$100,000

The Levy is a popular series, and between the several $50,000 legs and the final there is quite a bit of money to be made—ask Foiled. However, it falls very early in the season. Most of the better open horses that will be in action for the Graduate in May aren’t out yet.

$455,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series
1. Blatantly Good – George Brennan
2. Art Z - Brett Miller
3. Atochia* - Ron Pierce
4. Fitzs Z Tam - Brian Sears
5. Strand Hanover - Luc Ouellette
6. Nob Hill High - Jordan Stratton
7. Real Nice - Jason Bartlett
8. Foiled Again* - Yannick Gingras

The Mohawk Gold cup—formerly the Woodbine GC—is a tough one to grade. The purse is short, but it does attract relatively strong fields. It deserves a higher rating than the Battle of Lake Erie or the Quillen, but the small purse and ratio of filler horses to free-for-allers lands it with the twos.

The Molson purse is $300,000 however, with the exception of Ron Burke, owners and trainers apparently have no interest in racing at the small track where they start seven across. This year one elimination featured five horses and the other six. If it weren’t for the Burke trio of Foiled, Atochia and Clear Vision, the race may as well have been cancelled. Casie Coleman chose to race Molson nominee, Betterthancheddar, in a $15,000 preferred pace at Georgian Downs rather than in the Molson.

The Indiana Pacing Derby is another open that lacks diversity. This year three of the six entered were from the Burke stable. Last year it was six of nine.

The Quillen purse was reduced 35% this year. They raced for $335,000 in 2011 and $216,000 this year.

Aged Pacing Mares
Grade 1

Artiscape—Tioga—June--$184,000 in 2012
Roses Are Red—Mohawk—July--$384,000 in 2012
Lady Liberty—Meadowlands—August--$250,000
Golden Girls—Meadowlands—August--$218,000 in 2012
Milton—Mohawk—September--$384,000 in 2012
Breeders Crown—October--$325,000 in 2012

Grade 2
Blue Chip Matchmaker—Yonkers—April--$300,000 final 2012
Betsy Ross—Harrah’s—May--$100,000 in 2012
Green With Envy—Meadowlands—July--$56,000 final 2012
A Spring of Hope—Mohawk—September--$100,000 in 2012
Forest City Pace—Western Fair—November--$200,000 in 2012
Ellamony—Flamboro—June--$221,000 in 2012
Overbid—Meadowlands—March--$101,000 final in 2012

The Matchmaker, like the Levy, is a series and it runs up against similar issues due to the time of year and shape of the track. This year Anndrovette, Peelers and Rocklamation were in the final, but last year it was: Tomorrowpan, Breakheart Pass, Ginger And Fred, Save My Shark, Hula’s Z Tam, All Spirit, Giveittomestraight and Symphony In Motion.

The folks at Harrah’s lopped $50,000 off the Betsy Ross purse this year, leaving it at $100,000. POAS and Anndrovette were entered in 2012, but the short purse and a rule against starting two mares from the same barn hurts the quality of the race.

The Burke duo Rocklamation and Camille stepped the Forest City Pace up this year, with the former winning the final in TR time, but overall it’s a two
The Overbid is too early in the season to warrant a grade one designation.

I’ll break this up. The next installment will cover the aged H&G and mare trotters. There will be a lot more threes when I get to the colts and fillies.
Many of these races are contested in Ontario and the altered landscape in that province may lead to significant changes in how these stakes get graded.

Folks are welcome to chime in with a different take on one or many of these races.


Thanks to the Maryland Standardbred Horse Racing News group on Facebook, I saw an advertisement for Rosecroft Raceway back in 1951 which advertised races for DC, DE, MD, NJ, VA owners only.  Funny how even back then Pennsylvania owners were on the outs, barred from these races.

It got me thinking, the horsemen groups from the same states should get together and form their own version of the Diamond Alliance used between Midwest states and California.  However, while in 1951 it was for horses owned by owners residing in those states, the 2013 version should be for horses sired in these states.  Of course, with tracks racing at the same time, you couldn't have entire cards with such races, but a certain percentage of races at each track could be set aside for such a group of horses, with the races traveling between the member tracks.   The only other restriction I would suggest for these races is the horses needed to start at a track in those states four or five times in their last six starts; in effect keeping Pennsylvania horses out of the mix.   

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