Homeracing

Why the Malibu, La Brea should have no effect on Eclipse Award balloting

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

December 18th, 2015

Included in an e-mail with Eclipse Award voting instructions this week was this plea, bolded for effect and (presumably) reflecting the views of higher-ups at the three voting organizations:

It is strongly encouraged that you consider waiting to vote until after the conclusion of the [G]rade 1 racing being conducted at the end of this month, which includes the Malibu Stakes and the La Brea Stakes, both on December 26 at Santa Anita Park.

Not included was any compelling explanation why voters should consider waiting to vote. There's no mention of any specific horses pointing toward the Malibu or La Brea, thus no logical argument as to why success or failure in either event should have any bearing on a divisional championship. The implication is that because the American Graded Stakes Committee has deemed these two races worthy of a Grade 1 label, voters should take their results into account without any serious scrutiny.

In a column published this week in Daily Racing Form, Steve Crist expresses a similar view, saying that "responsible voters will wait until at least the evening of Dec. 26 to make their final choices." According to Crist, the winner of the La Brea "could vault to the leadership of a division [female sprinter] that currently has an unsatisfactory front-runner."

In words once sung by The Chairman of the Board, call me irresponsible.

The serious issue I have with taking into account the results of either the Malibu or La Brea is that they are restricted races. No horse older than the age of three is allowed to run in either seven-furlong event.

Simply put, championships in the female sprinter, male sprinter, turf male, and turf female divisions should be based on performance in non age-restricted events. There is no specific "rule" that says this should be so, but doing the opposite undoubtedly violates the spirit in which the awards were created and have generally been viewed through the years by the Eclipse Award electorate.

It is ironic that Crist would have this take considering he argued, on a different but related subject, in a column published September 26, 2013, that:

Rich and highly graded races restricted to 3-year-olds should, like the wearing of white shoes, cease after Labor Day.

Later in the same column, he wrote:

Racing needs more clear paths to championships and fewer ways for the sport's best to avoid racing one another.

Perhaps one way for the sport to encourage the sport's best to face one another is to not reward them so much for excelling against restricted company. Unfortunately, in this week's column, Crist argues for the opposite:

Cavorting...may already deserve the title and absolutely should get it if she wins the La Brea and the Eclipse voters are still paying attention. She already is the only candidate with both a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 victory. A La Brea score would give her twice as many Grade 1s, three times as many graded stakes, and four times as many stakes victories Wavell Avenue, despite her fourth-place finish from post 14 as the favorite in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

There is no question that Cavorting, with or without a La Brea victory, has enjoyed more consistent success this year than Wavell Avenue. However, all of it came at the expense of fellow three-year-olds. As Crist notes, Cavorting proved only fourth best in her only attempt against older rivals in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

Considering she has the weakest resume of any previous Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner, I don't necessarily accept the premise that Wavell Avenue is somehow the favorite for this award. I and a few other voters I know are inclined to support La Verdad, whose candidacy Crist dismisses due to a lack of a Grade 1 victory in 2015. Apparently, beating Wavell Avenue in the Gallant Bloom H. (G2), all save that rival in the Breeders' Cup, and two other graded stakes is seemingly not good enough.

That brings me to a larger point Crist argues: that determining a champion in the female sprint division can be problematic due to an "inadequate" stakes program (i.e. not enough and/or properly scheduled Grade 1 events). More problematic, from this vantage point, is the overemphasis and unnecessary fretting among some voters about what grade a race is rather than acknowledging the actual quality of its field.

(How did the earliest Eclipse Award voters and those who participated in the DRF and TRA polls before 1971 ever get by without grades attached to races?)

To cite a couple examples, the Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga included La Verdad, who is a past winner of the Ballerina (G1), and reigning division champion Judy the Beauty, while the Gallant Bloom at Belmont included La Verdad and Wavell Avenue, as well as Humana Distaff (G1) winner Dame Dorothy. There is no particular need to have the American Graded Stakes Committee's blessing to retroactively view these races as Grade 1 events in all but name.

Although Crist suggests near the end that the Malibu and La Brea should at some point be open to older runners, it doesn't change the fact they currently aren't. The possibility that Cavorting, a very nice filly but one whose main chance to snare the championship ended in unequivocal defeat, could take the honors simply by winning a restricted event five days before the end of the year is a head-shaking proposition.

P.S. Crist earlier made the point that a La Brea victory "tipped the scales" for Indian Blessing vis a vis Ventura, her Breeders' Cup conqueror, in 2008, thus there is precedent for Cavorting's candidacy if she should win next Saturday.

Perhaps.

An alternate view is that Indian Blessing surely received, from voters not hung up on race grades, credit for her 6 1/4-length win in the Gallant Bloom, a non age-restricted event, despite its mere Grade 2 ranking. It's a clear difference between Indian Blessing's campaign and Cavorting's.

(Cavorting photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

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