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Doing the Graded Earnings Shuffle

While the graded earnings dance carries on this week, it’s useful to remember that the 20 horses who usually fill the Derby starting gate are not always those who most deserve to be there — recalling some of the gamesmanship that’s kept worthy horses out of the field in the past (think Rock Hard Ten) can be a depressing exercise (which is why I called it gamesmanship rather than sportsmanship).

In my perfect world, I’ve simplified everything and limited it to a (fairly opinionated) 15 horse field; while you can certainly make an argument for others and against some of these, I’ve always been of the opinion that 20 horses is too many and leads to traffic trouble that can keep the best horse from winning (think Afleet Alex). So, without further ado, The Superfecta Dream 15:

  1. Any Given Saturday (always tries)
  2. Chelokee (clearly talented)
  3. Circular Quay (has earned it, layoff or no layoff)
  4. Cowtown Cat (I’m not a believer, but he’s showed he belongs)
  5. Curlin (could be a freak, but hasn’t proven it yet)
  6. Great Hunter (a model of consistency in big races)
  7. Hard Spun (numbers went up at the right time)
  8. Liquidity (his workouts look a lot better than Cobalt Blue’s do)
  9. Nobiz Like Shobiz (blinkers on, please)
  10. Scat Daddy (still not my pick, but I’d never overlook him)
  11. Sedgefield (working on the ‘toss the last race’ principle)
  12. Stormello (he’s shown a lot of grit too)
  13. Street Sense (impossible not to include)
  14. Teuflesberg (not sure he wants the distance, but he’s so hard-knocking)
  15. Tiago (made the right move at the right time)

There, that wasn’t so hard! Who needs 20? But seriously, it would be useful to shake up the selection process a bit. Graded earnings are a good start, but I like Steve Day’s suggestion that the top 18 on graded earnings get an automatic berth, then there are two wildcard spots left up to a panel. That could overcome not only a lockout on earnings, but also prevent some of the more egregious maneuvering that sometimes goes on to keep specific horses out of the race.

But let’s take a moment to focus on someone who’s definitely in the race — Hard Spun’s jockey Mario Pino; it’s amazing to think this is going to be his first Derby. He’s a fantastic rider who has been well-known in Maryland and Delaware for years, it’s great to see him get some national recognition at long last.

2 comments to Doing the Graded Earnings Shuffle

  • Chrissy Church

    I love your list! And glad to see that you have Stormello on there. I’ve been following him since right before the Breeder’s Cup last year and would love to see him win. Just hope Bill Currin’s attempt to have him rate behind the leaders will work out. He’s too anxious to go to the front and I’m afraid he’ll tire like he did in the Florida Derby.
    Also, I like your idea of the top 18 having the automatic berth and then the other 2 being chosen by a panel.
    Thanks for your updates on TWR! As a devoted FOB, its been great reading your updates while Alex is away.
    Can’t wait for this weekend!
    Chrissy Church

  • Nellie

    Good to see that Teuflesberg made your list; he’s a horse that I’ve admired since the start, and I really like Jamie Sanders … it’s refreshing to see an owner/trainer who isn’t afraid to race their colt and understands that sometimes even the best of horses lose.

    The distance is a bit of a concern, but I’d also worry about the break – he seems to have problems with that. And maybe there’s a reversible procedure that could deafen Nobiz for Derby day? (call me skeptical, but personal experience tells me that earplugs can’t block out the loudest parties… much to my dismay)

    The graded earnings system makes sense on paper. However, I’ve seen a pattern of horses who never make it to the gate because they’ve fallen a bit short in the races that matter earnings-wise… but clearly have the capability and talent. And I think I’d even go so far as to make it 5 wildcard spots…

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