Letter to the Editor: Terence Collier

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However the TDN looks upon itself introspectively, the daily readership of its North American content can probably deduce that without advertising revenues from the Thoroughbred breeding industry, it would be difficult for its publishers to put out such an excellent and comprehensive daily edition. The lead article in June 27th's issue by Bill Finley–“Do we really need so many stakes races?”–obviously comes from the writer's perspective more concerned with payoffs from exactas and trifectas than the majority of the TDN's readers.

Bill says, “The problem is obvious. There aren't enough horses and there are too many stakes.” He says, “the American Graded Stakes Committee hasn't done its job.”

His solution, all too glibly proffered by one with little skin in the breeding and owning game, is to throw out iconic races like the Mother Goose, the Hollywood Gold Cup and to take the knife to the NYRA stakes schedule. Simple answer, problem solved.

Hardly!

During my 43-year career with Fasig-Tipton, I attended many grading review meetings of the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC). Of all the alphabet committees that the Thoroughbred industry has spawned, I have never known a group of professionals more effective, more diligent or better-prepared than these unpaid guardians of our graded stakes system.

Let's take it step-by-step. It is a simple process to take the scalpel to the number of stakes races. There is currently a minimum purse requirement of $50,000 or $75,000 for a stake to earn the “black-type,” that will appear in a Thoroughbred's pedigree. The Thoroughbred breeding industry, with the assistance of TOBA, The Jockey Club and the Society of International Thoroughbred Auctioneers, monitors this system on a day-to-day basis to ensure black-type standards are correctly maintained. That minimum is reviewed annually and, with the dramatically improved purses everywhere at maiden and allowance levels, there is justification for a school of thought to raise the minimum. However, the consequence of, let's say, doubling the minimum, would eliminate a lot of stakes races from black-type, but would, at the same time, devastate the racing programs of second-tier racetracks, who rely on the “honor” of awarding black-type to encourage owners to stay or come into the game.

Anyway, that would be a meaningful debate. By tradition, the number of graded stakes should be an acceptable percentage of the total black-type races. The Graded Stakes Committee should be considering the “pyramid” created by total of all races on the bottom, to Grade I stakes on the top. The pyramid system is acknowledged by every recognized world-wide racing authority.

In my active years, the U.S. percentage was always far the lowest of any major international racing country, albeit, truthfully, because North America has an overwhelming number of total races. Each year I read in the TDN the annual report of the AGSC, which regularly features a consistent and regrettable number of downgraded or eliminated stakes races.

If those who currently sit on the AGSC are not maintaining the standards established by their predecessors, they should be open to question from anybody who cares about the quality and diversity of racing in North America, including Bill Finley. It is a simplification to say that, because our foal crop is well under 50% of its peak, we should slash the number of graded stakes.

Bill's example of short fields in such races as the 2022 GII Mother Goose is a fixable aberration, which, if seen repeated, will result in yet another downgrading of a race which was, until recently, an integral Grade I part of the Fillies' Triple Crown.

Bill's quoting the statistics of racehorses now running less than six times per year, half of what it was 20 years ago, is not caused by an excess of stakes-races. The blame for that, if blame is the right word, is squarely on the shoulders of trainers with divisions of high-class horses who feel that their win-to-runner percentage is inviolable. We have quality racing year-round in the U.S. We should incentivize trainers to run more frequently and penalize those whose runners fill a stall year-round and only show up at the racetrack every other month at most.

Don't do what we so frequently do in every walk of life–make a knee-jerk decision that wipes out decades or even centuries of racing history. Give Bill Finley back his full fields, his exactas and trifectas and the opportunity to experience an AGSC grading meeting. Perhaps he will appreciate the hard work this group undertakes to maintain the integrity and tradition of racing in North America.

Yours respectfully,

Terence Collier

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