Weighing the Juvenile - by Eric Mitchell

Since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, only six juvenile males have been crowned champion without winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Of the six champions that weren’t Juvenile winners, three won the year’s top honor without even starting in the race.

A strong chance exists that the 2013 racing season could crown a fourth champion that bypassed the Juvenile.

Gary and Mary West’s New Year’s Day clearly stamped himself a championship contender when he won the Juvenile Nov. 2 by 11⁄4 lengths over grade I winners Havana (Foxwoods Champagne Stakes), Strong Mandate (Hopeful Stakes), and Bond Holder (FrontRunner Stakes). The son of Street Cry is a vulnerable candidate, however, because the Juvenile was his first and only stakes win of the year—albeit a big one.

There are two schools of thought in selecting champions. One approach treats the Juvenile as the year’s sole litmus test for 2-year-olds. If you’re the winner, you get the brass ring; and to even be considered, you better at least show up. Twenty-three times the winner of the Juvenile has become the champion, and three out of the six champions that were not Juvenile winners were part of the Juvenile field—Easy Goer finished second in 1988, Dehere finished eighth in 1993, and Lookin At Lucky finished second in 2009.

The second approach to selecting the juvenile champion looks beyond a victory in a single stakes. To be a champion, a colt needs to have been tested against the best in graded stakes company and come away with the best overall record. Here’s where selecting this year’s juvenile champion gets sticky because we don’t have a male that has truly dominated the division.

Listen to Steve Haskin and Ron Mitchell discuss the 2-Year-Old Eclipse Awards.

Fifteen 2-year-old males each won one graded stakes in 2013, and among them are five whose single graded stakes win was a grade I. Only one has two graded stakes wins—Shared Belief, who skipped the Juvenile and went on to stay undefeated in three starts in the Dec. 14 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) over grade I winners Tamarando and Bond Holder. Prior to the Futurity, Shared Belief (by Candy Ride) won the Nov. 10 Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) by 73⁄4 lengths. The Futurity is certainly not the Breeders’ Cup, but it is a respectable grade I race with some impressive names on its roster of winners, such as A.P. Indy, Best Pal, Real Quiet, Point Given, Declan’s Moon, and Lookin At Lucky.

Declan’s Moon is the last horse named the 2-year-old champion who bypassed the Juvenile, but that decision was easier on voters because 1) Juvenile winner Wilko had done most of his racing that year in Europe, and 2) the two horses did face each other in the Futurity with Wilko finishing third. Declan’s Moon ran undefeated in four starts in 2004, winning three graded stakes.

Many are concerned that awarding a championship to a 2-year-old whose connections duck the Breeders’ Cup undermines the importance of the championships. The sport is supposed to reward the “home runs,” and the Breeders’ Cup should be a home run in the World Series. But the flip side is, does putting that much weight on the Juvenile undermine other graded stakes? We have a system of rating the quality of races and the best North American races are graded stakes. Certainly not all graded stakes are created equal, even among grade Is, but collectively they are the most prestigious races to win. Only 1.7% of 73,078 foals produced by 253 of North America’s most-supported stallions (minimum of 15 mares covered in 2013) became graded stakes winners. A graded stakes win is a home run, and a champion should be tested and show ability among the best...more than once.

So in a soft year without a real standout, the nod should go to a male with more than one home run, to a multiple graded stakes winner and grade I winner—Shared Belief.


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