VFTRG contributor Joe F. talks about the influence the Sires Stakes programs have on the Breeders Crown in this latest entry of his.
Sire Stakes racing has been a part of the sport for more than fifty years, and during that time it has created a disconnect between performance and earnings. However, it seems that this year’s conflation of the Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile, the Breeders Crown races at Pocono and the sire stakes championship races in Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario has heightened that disparity. Some horses skipped the first week of the Red Mile meet so they could compete in their sire stakes finals; a number of horses skipped the second week at Lexington so they’d be fresh for this week’s BC eliminations; and others, like Your So Vain, chose to race in Lexington instead of in the BC. It’s a shame that shortsighted scheduling forces these choices on owners and horsemen.
Due to the domination of restricted racing in New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario there obviously is no correlation between performance and earnings except at the very top. In the major professional sports players tend to get paid in accordance with their value to their team on the court, ice or field. Playing in a major market can bump up their salary but free agency generally levels the playing field. In harness racing location means everything. Walnut Hall’s Western Hanover stallion, Third Straight, had colts sell for 27K, 28K, 30K and 33K at the Lexington Selected sale--all due to the KYSS. And their obscure trotting stallion, Groton Hall, had a colt go for $50,000. What do you think those colts would bring if Third Straight and Groton Hall stood in Maryland?
Apropos of this, it’s noteworthy that only three of the top ten 2-year-old colt & gelding pacers on the earning’s list will be competing in the Breeders Crown, that trio being Western Vintage, Arthur Blue Chip and Three Of Clubs. How can that be? Have we gone that far over the cliff on restricted racing that most of the GC colts and fillies are looking up at their state by state competitors from a hole in the ground? Only 20% of the ten richest freshman colt pacers will be competing in the BC? Again, riches and talent don’t necessarily go together in today’s rendition of the sport, but it just doesn’t seem right.
Western Vintage is by Western Ideal, who is wearing his New Jersey eligibility for one more year like a ball & chain. This colt did win the NJSS final but that program is now so limited that there are no sire stakes lifers in it: sink or swim in open waters. Notice how that’s reflected at the sales via the progeny of Rocknroll Hanover, Muscles Yankee, Western Ideal, Cam’s Card Shark, and yes, even Muscle Hill. Western Vintage recently won a split of the Bluegrass and finished second in the Metro. Arthur Blue Chip, by Ontario sire Shadow Play, won the Nassagaweya and three legs of the OSS. And Three of Clubs, by Mach Pride, is, like Arthur Blue Chip, making his first start outside of Canada. His resume is similar to Arthur’s sans the big wins.
Of the seven colts with spots on the top ten earning’s list who are not competing in the BC, only the If I Can Dream colt, Forty Five Red, who is primarily a NYSS regular but did win the Sheppard, is eligible. The SBSW gelding Limelight Beach is a head-scratcher, but others like Bugger Bruiser, Big Boy Dreams and Allstar Partner are by off-brand stallions and were no doubt purchased with sire stakes racing in mind. The American Ideal colt, He’s Watching, is the one who will be missed the most. A little guy who went through the sale for $3,000, it was too late to nominate him when they found out what they had. Two-year-olds cannot be supplemented to the BC.
Six of the top ten earning two-year-old pacing fillies are BC bound. Four of the freshman trotting colts will be in; two of them—Credit Fashion and Don Dorado—drew byes this week. And four of the top earning fillies are entered. So 17 of 40 from the top ten earning’s list in the two-year-old class, or 42%, will be racing in the BC. The numbers are better for the sophomore class as 60% are entered.
The NYSS recently paid out $1,800,000 in purse money at Yonkers on the same night that the OSS paid out $1,600,000 at Mohawk. On a Friday in mid-September the PASS distributed $1,200,000 in purse money at The Meadows—and that was exclusively for PA bred three-year-olds. All three of these cards were raced in a vacuum. They’re pretty much exclusive to the locals and the dedicated online followers of those tracks and programs. Most states and provinces treat racing conducted within their borders as an exclusive property. They don’t answer to anyone and have no concept of or interest in the big picture world of the sport. Individual stakes like the Hambletonion, Jug and NA Cup capture the attention of some but the Breeders Crown is that one night when all classes are represented and quality races should showcase the sport. It is discouraging that this parallel class of horses, fattened on restricted racing and having no interest in the BC or any other open stakes race, seems to be taking over.