In October of 2006, Keeneland debuted the Polytrack surface on what had previously been a traditional dirt track. There have now been five runnings of the Blue Grass Stakes since the switch. Would anyone care to recite from memory the winners of those five Grade I events? How about three of the five? Two?
While it was entirely predictable that the switch in surface would degrade the Blue Grass’ long-standing reputation as a meaningful stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby, it might have required an extra dose of cynicism to have predicted the precipitous fall from grace that we have witnessed.
Here’s a brief look at the four winners of the race prior to 2011:
Dominican raced 15 times subsequent to his Blue Grass victory. He won just one of those races, a three-other-than allowance at Presque Isle Downs by a head. He ran in nine graded races, all but one (the Derby) Grades II and III, and could only muster some non-threatening placed finishes in the weakest of them.
Monba raced only five times after his Blue Grass win. He finished last in the Derby (though was probably injured), and third in two very weak Grade IIIs.
Stately Victor raced nine times after the Blue Grass. He won a weak, ungraded stakes at Woodbine (his only subsequent win), and placed in two weak Grade III races.
General Quarters, winner of the ’09 Blue Grass, was the only previous winner to have demonstrated anything remotely approaching Grade I class. While he predictably made no impact in either the Derby or Preakness, he did come back to win a Grade I turf race at Churchill as a four-year-old, and ran a creditable third behind Blame in the Stephen Foster as well.
The horse that won this year’s Blue Grass, Brilliant Speed, may well develop further, but has a long way to go before proving himself to be true Grade I caliber on any surface.
To be fair, there have been three placed horses, Street Sense, Paddy O’Prado and Game On Dude, which proved to be high-class performers. But if you add those three together with General Quarters, you have a grand total of four, arguably legitimate Grade I performers, to have won or placed in the race over the last four years.
So, what’s the point? The point is that the American Graded Stakes Committee has some serious ‘splainin’ to do. How can they possibly justify – while retaining any semblance of consistency – the continued granting of Grade I status to the Blue Grass? There is no reasonable set of criteria by which one could possibly lead to the conclusion that the Blue Grass deserves Grade I status.
It’s a glaring, and outrageous departure from what the committee maintains are rather clear standards for designating Graded race status. From TOBA’s own website, here are the main criteria for consideration:
The quality of a race is evaluated using:
- 1.stakes performance of all horses in the field in the 24 months before and after the race, and
- 2.annual classification ratings of the four highest-rated horses in the field
Stakes performance is measured in three ways:
- 1. POINTS (reflecting field-horses’ 1-2-3 finishes in all unrestricted black-type events);
- 2. PERCENTAGE of Graded Stakes Winners in the field;
- 3. QUALITY POINTS (number of Grade I, II, and III winners in the field
Based on the very straightforward criteria above, the Blue Grass should be a Grade II event at best, and assigning Grade I status is utterly unsupportable.
Finally, and again from TOBA’s website:
The U.S. grading system is designed to accommodate the flexibility and dynamism of U.S. racing; a grading system that could not quickly respond to our ever-changing conditions would never be appropriate in our country. Judgment and flexibility thus must always be a part of the system.
Really? Then why, after five years of, with rare exceptions, thoroughly ordinary horses winning and placing in the Blue Grass, has the AGSC failed to correct what is a glaringly obvious mistake?