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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Worst G1 Races of 2008

With the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) raising the purse minimum for G1 races in 2009 to $300,000—completely disregarding the global recession and reality of dramatic handle decline industry wide—and the net addition of five races to G1 status, it is prudent to take a more dispassionate examination of G1 races.

These should be, theoretically, crème de la crème events, representing the best racing has to offer. However, any genuine reform isn’t in the best interest of breeders and owners who are primarily concerned with their pocketbooks, not truly “maintaining the integrity of the sales catalogue.” Thus, it is unlikely that we’ll soon see adopted a more exactly scoring system, as Patrick over at Handride has long advocated. God forbid, as the eloquent Gary West suggests, the AGSC actually go back and grade races after they’ve been run, if they are truly interested in “integrity”!

That said, there were several seriously weak G1 races run in 2008, and unfortunately their winners can flaunt that highly-desirable black type for generations to come:

G1 Suburban Handicap (Belmont)
Look no further than 40-1 Frost Giant defeating Solar Flare and Rising Moon—this race rightly deserves its downgrade to G2 next year based on this year’s appalling quality alone. Don’t get me wrong—I love Naughty New Yorker. However, there’s a significant difference between sentimental affection and recognizing top-quality racing. How bad was this race? One time G2 winner A.P. Arrow was the post-time favorite. Even the hapless son of top-quality Serena’s Song, Harlington couldn’t earn a G1-placing here before shuttling off to stud.

G1 Carter Handicap (Aqueduct)
Undefeated in just six life-time starts notwithstanding, Bustin Stones hardly proved himself G1-worthy against the likes of Executive Fleet, Premium Wine, Lord Snowdon, Not for Money, King of the Roxy, Ryan’s for Real, Spring at Last, and City Attraction. Yet, it will be plastered all over his stud book advertising. Moreover, last year’s winner Silver Wagon was a nice horse—but was arguably past his prime at six—and the runner-up Diabolical has, frankly, never really lived up to his lauded reputation as a Godolphin horse. The rest of the field: Ah Day, Latent Heat, Keyed Entry and Kazoo. Previous winners Bishop Court Hill in 2006, and Forest Danger in 2005—each victorious against suspect fields. If the AGSC took into consideration competitive quality for the past three (rather than the current five) years, this race would have been downgraded like the Suburban.

G1 Blue Grass Stakes (Keeneland)
The graveyard for Kentucky Derby wannabes (remember First Samurai?)—Pyro’s 2008 Derby dream ended here, as did that of Cool Coal Man, Big Truck, and Visionaire. Who came out on top? Monba, Cowboy Cal and Kentucky Bear, followed by Stevil. Who?

G1 Belmont Stakes (Belmont)
Sacrilege you say! I’m totally serious. This was the worst G1 race of the year—hands down. Not only did Big Brown mysteriously flop, but the winner Da’ Tara hasn’t exactly proven to be quality, strikingly apparent in his most recent third place finish in an allowance race at Churchill on the G2 Clark undercard. Denis of Cork? Ready’s Echo? Anak Nakal—he went on to win the G2 Pennsylvania Derby. Wow, call me underwhelmed. Hugely disappointing race on so many levels.

While no filly and mare G1 races made my list, I am concerned about the small fields many of them drew, particularly in New York this past summer. And, I must confess, there were several borderline races I seriously considered highlighting above, namely the Pimlico Special, Man O'War, and United Nations.

What G1 disappointed you this year?