Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

03 April 2009

Don't Make It Easier For Horses Like Dunkirk To Stay In The Barn




With only three starts on his record there are legions of people arguing that Churchill should do something to ensure horses like Dunkirk can have access to the Kentucky Derby starting gate. These people are flat out wrong, one hit wonders like Dunkirk should be excluded from the Derby if they do not have the requisite graded earnings, the conditioning or the record of success. Racing needs horses to race, not stay in the barn.

Dunkirk and his possible exclusion from the derby is often linked to Mafaaz. Mafaaz won the Kempton challenge and while he looks overmatched in the derby some argue and he will exclude a live contender. Another frequent complaint is the pair of Godolphin horses who will likely enter the Kentucky derby who won their owners money in Dubai. This international presence in America's most famous race is great for the game. Horses like Mafaaz, Desert Party and Regal Ransom provide intrigue and provide access to overseas growth markets. Horses like Dunkirk with their lack of races and injury prone nature are a cancer on the game.


One of the chief things that plagues racing is horses like Dunkirk. We have graded stakes horses that do not race, they stay in the barn and only come out for an afternoon run once in a while when they are in absolutely pristine form. This is terrible for the game and robs the game of intrigue and the ability to follow horses. Those in charge should do nothing to accommodate horses that face the consequences of a lack of racing. Typically a horse can stay in the barn with complete impunity. The Kentucky Derby is one the rare situations where a horse like Dunkirk's connections are punished for the lack of racing, let the punishment stand if it holds.

Look at horses like Ghostzapper from 2004 and his brilliant four race campaign. Ghostzapper did nothing in the afternoon from September 2003 to July 2004 and then raced every 6 weeks or so in short fields up until his breeders cup classic win at Lone Star. While he may of been brilliant in those four races it was not exactly conducive to building a sports fan base. Four race campaigns disengage the public from big time stakes races and should be discouraged whenever possible. The graded stakes earning list for the derby is one of those few instances.


Who can forget Easy Goer's 1989 three year old campaign? 11 races, 3 wins over older routers in a grade I and a total of 8 graded wins. Despite his extraordinary season Easy Goer lost the BC classic to a horse that was laid up for most of the summer while Easy Goer won Grade I after Grade I. Ever since that race of decade in the 89' BC classic horses have been managed more judiciously, races leading up to the breeders cup have been shortened and horses have followed the example of Sunday Silence taking the summer off rather than the complete campaign of Easy Goer. While it may be good for the connections to pick conservative spots like this, it is terrible for the game.

While the Kempton challenge could be considered a gimmick, it is an attempt to build interest in the Kentucky Derby. There is a huge untapped international market and the presence of this one horse could do wonders for increasing the interest in the derby and American racing in general. People in London bookie shops will have a greater interest in the Kentucky Derby and maybe even American casual fans will be intrigued by a foreign dark horse. The masses need big and easy story lines to follow, something that they can grab and run with. Will Mafaaz keep out Dunkirk? I don't think he will but if he does it will send the message that your big horses need to race.

A horse like Dunkirk if he was to succeed in the derby would set a precedent where many trainers would try to go into the triple crown off of one prep race. Look at the success of the ill fated Barbaro. At the time going into the derby on five weeks rest was taboo, but Barbaro's success has emboldened trainers like Larry Jones to take Friesian Fire off a 7 week rest into the derby this year. A derby success by Dunkirk would lead to a copy-cat horses in later years that race with even less bottom conditioning. What happens to horses with a lack of a bottom? They get injured and they are whisked away as soon as we begin to admire them.


The current system of graded stakes earnings favors horses that have been racing and earning over a period of time. This is a solid system. It is not a perfect system and surely anomalies like the $1 million Delta Jackpot Skew the graded earnings list but at least horses that race are favored and not one hit wonders.

10 comments:

Handride said...

You answer your own question at the end: Who deserves to be in the gate more? A 2nd place finisher in a Gr I, or a Gr III winner?

Teresa said...

My objection to the Kempton Challenge is that different rules apply for different horses. While I don't think that the graded stakes earnings is necessarily a perfect system, it works, to a certain extent. What doesn't make sense is that if you race in this country, one set of entry requirements applies, but if you race in England, another does. Create a standard, whatever it is, that applies to all horses.

Eddie D. said...

LOL @ turning this into an Easy Goer-Sunday Silence debate.

Wind Gatherer said...

I don't know if one can have it both ways.

Reports indicate Dunkirk got a late start because he had some issues and the owners took their time with him. They have more money than God, so that is their prerogative. If they get shut out on May 2, so be it but they should not be judged harshly for doing right by the horse, whatever that means. Dunkirk could be this year's Rock Hard Ten.

If an owner gets Derby fever and runs an unsound horse, just to make the field and the horse gets injured, they are excoriated and rightly so.

I agree with Teresa in that the standard should be just that. Had Dunkirk shipped out to Kempton and won the whole damn thing, which he might have, then nobody would be bitching because the right horse won. The Kempton race fiasco is a bad move on Churchill's part. If Dunkirk misses the field by one, then that is unfortunate and deserves revision. Mafaaz had done nothing deserving of Derby entry prior to his win.

Money being what it is, fluky purses will skew the results and Handride's argument for points based on grade is a valid one.

Power Cap said...

I am not against a points system, if it is fair. It is not in the best interest of racing for Churchill to bend over backwards to allow horses with a limited record to enter the derby.

Cholly said...

I'm with Power Cap on this one. Points are for games played by boys in short pants...the money system works well enough and anything that replaced it would also be riddled with imperfections.

If a horse can't establish himself as one of the top 17 domestic money earners, his supporters shouldn't get all worked up about not making the Derby.

For dunkirk, this could be a blessing in disguise. Run the table on the Peter Pan, the Belmont, The Travers, and the BC Classic, and nobody will even remember who won the Derby. But they're acting like if he doesn't get in that race, it's the end of his career--maybe he's only got one more race in him.

Doc said...

Much of what you say is reasonable. However, common sense should also apply.

1) 2YO graded earnings should be sharply discounted. The exception should be three end of the year juvenile races which are often meaningful: the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Hollywood (Cash Call) Futurity, and the Remsen Stakes.

It is idiotic to exclude the runner-up in the Florida Derby because a horse won a 2yo graded stake at Del Mar or Saratoga, going 6F.

2) There is no reason Churchill Downs shouldn't have 2 or more methods of qualifying for the Derby. We already do that for the Breeders' Cup (Win & You're In, points, and committee selections).

The ideal system would be for Churchill to do something similar: graded earnings, with 3yo form worth at least double 2yo money with the exception of the races mentioned above, Win & You're In, and a racing secretary's committee to insure horses like Dunkirk aren't excluded.

3) Trainers must ALWAYS do what is best for the horse -- period. Anything less means racing is on a fast track to extinction.

4) The inclusion of foreign horses should be encouraged. U.S. racing needs an infusion of fresh thinking, not to mentioned the potential expansion of the betting pool. Churchill should explore a Win & You're In race located for Japanese and Australian horses.

5) Eddie D. has it right. Injecting Easy Goer & Sunday Silence into this confuses the issue.

alydarjp said...

I have no problem with the graded points sytem and i believe that these horses not running against each other is killing the sport
what should be done with the derby is to allow major prep winners ( in this country only) first choice by graded win $, of post position pick. that way we avoid some slug getting the best post and good horses stuck in post twenty

malcer said...

Late entry. I was just catching up on your blog and wanted to say that this may be the best post I've read in months, probably even years.

Doc: The 2YO argument is probably right, but far too often mentioned, IMO. How many horses have ever edged into the Derby on their earnings in a G3 6f last July?

Win and You're In exists, in practice. There has never been a year in which winning one of the major preps didn't easily get your horse over the line.

Not only would your committee idea defy the entire premise of this post, it would be entirely subjective.

The connections of Dunkirk had about 10 weeks between his impressive allowance win and the Derby, if their horse is so fragile as to not stand two races in that timeframe, his genes clearly shouldn't be used to breed future generations of thoroughbreds, so a system excluding such horses from glory is doing the sport a huge favor.

Mark Moran said...

I see no reason to change the rules at all. Dunkirk's entire stakes experience is this: he finished 2nd in one Grade I race. What makes him so deserving, what makes his possible exclusion so outrageous and bad for the sport that the rules must be changed ? And to exclude 2yo earnings reinforces the message that the best strategy is to wait till January to unveil your top horses. And this is coming from someone who thinks Dunkirk can win the race and relishes the opportunity to bet on him. There was a similar outcry when Easy Now was excluded from the BC Juvy fillies and then she lost the Demoiselle.