From Grade 1 to Grade 3: A Significant Class Drop
It’s easy to understand how significant it can be when a racehorse drops from one class level to a lower class level. As we’ve discussed in the past, when a horse drops from a maiden special weight to a maiden claiming race, the easier competition will significantly increase that horse’s chance of winning.
Another major drop in class comes when a proven Grade 1 competitor drops down to Grade 3 after a string of runs at the highest level of the sport. In many cases, this is accompanied by understandably low odds—most bettors will recognize that the Grade 1 competitor is facing easier competition—but once in a while, such a horse will slip through the cracks and be overlooked in the wagering, offering a major opportunity for bettors keeping an eye out for this angle.
A great example occurred in the 2017 Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Kentucky Downs. The field for the 1 ½-mile turf race was comprised primarily of Grade 3 and listed stakes competitors, as you would expect considering the grade of the race. The favorite, Postulation, certainly fit the class level well while entering off a decisive win in the American St. Leger (gr. III) at Arlington Park, but his lone previous attempt in a Grade 1 had resulted in a sixth-place finish in the Belmont Derby (gr. I).
In contrast, Oscar Nominated stood out as an obvious choice from a class perspective. The son of Kitten’s Joy entered the Kentucky Turf Cup off three straight runs at the Grade 1 level, including a third-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. As a three-year-old, he had been good enough to compete in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and he had also scored an impressive win in the Dueling Grounds Derby over the unique Kentucky Downs course, so in addition to the drop in class, the “horse for the course” angle was also in play for Oscar Nominated.
Yet surprisingly, Oscar Nominated was allowed to start at odds of more than 7-2 in the wagering. Perhaps it was because his most recent run had yielded an eighth-place finish in the Arlington Million (gr. I), a seemingly “poor” effort even though he had finished less than three lengths behind the winner.
But ultimately, the reason for his enticing odds didn’t matter. When Oscar Nominated gamely rallied past Postulation to win by a head, the $2 payoffs—$9.40 for a win bet and an excellent $46.80 for the logical exacta with the favorite—were simply larger than they should have been, and no bettor will ever complain about that, right?