The Breeders’ Cup also has a point system

November 16, 2021

The Breeders’ Cup has a point system as a tie breaker for the Bill Shoemaker Jockey award

Art makes a good case for William Buick

By Art Casciato

The recent “Debacle at Del Mar” involving the splendid Irish-bred colt Modern Games is evidence enough of the shameless disdain by the powers that be for what handicapper and commentator Ed De Rosa referred to as “wagering integrity.” 

Yet close on its heels comes another example, albeit less naked and embarrassing, of how little the bettor, whale and minnow alike, figures in the thinking of those who rule the horse racing industry: the selection of Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the Bill Shoemaker Award, which since 2008 has gone to the jockey who wins the most races at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Acknowledging Ortiz with this award seems to have become an annual event of sorts, since this makes four consecutive years he has been so honored. Quite an accomplishment. But did he deserve it this year? Not quite, in my view. 

There is of course no doubt that Irad won the most races of the 14 run at this year’s championships, three to be exact. No small feat given the size of most fields and the quality of the competition. However, Ortiz wasn’t the only rider to win three races this past Friday and Saturday. William Buick, who as it happens rode Modern Games, did as well. So how exactly was the tie broken in Irad’s favor? Well, therein lies the tale. 

In the case of a tie, Breeders’ Cup Limited apparently implemented a nifty little point system: 10 for finishing second, 3 for third, and 1 for fourth. By this accounting Ortiz is the clear winner, with one second and three fourths, giving him 13 points to Buick’s, ahem, zero. The closest poor William finished in any non-winning race was fifth. 

But what this particular bit of fun with numbers obscures is that Buick had only four mounts over the two days while Ortiz had—wait for it–NINE!

Now, let me make it clear that I’m not offering batting average as the most accurate or desirable measure with which to judge who was the best jockey at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. As a tie breaker, though, it would still be an improvement over the arbitrary point system with which the Shoemaker Award is now saddled. If ever there was a case of oranges being used to sort apples, this is it.

To recognize just how gimcracky the Breeders’ Cup tie-breaking system is, one need only compare Irad’s performance with that of his brother Jose, who, in addition to having rode two winners himself, brought home two seconds and a third. In doing so, Jose far outdistanced not only brother Irad but the entire field of jockeys with 23 make-believe points of his own. 

My modest proposal to break ties uses a metric not only more consistent with winning but much more basic to horse racing, one dear to the heart and bankroll of every horseplayer I know: return on investment. 

If you made a two-dollar win bet on each of Ortiz’s nine mounts, the $18 investment would have returned $22.80, a positive result to be sure, but a rather feeble one given win pools typically swollen with recreational money on Breeders’ Cup days. By comparison, the $8 you risked backing Buick and his four horses returned a healthy $31.20 (or would have if the Modern Games’ scratched/unscratched travesty hadn’t occurred), nearly quadrupling your investment. Even if we back out the unpaid payout on Modern Games—2-1 were the last odds I recall seeing on him just before his poor stablemate Albahr freaked and everyone began screaming what happened?—Buick still out-earned Ortiz 25.20 to 22.80, and this based on two winning rides rather than three. 

As far as I’m concerned, case closed. 

So why, you might ask, did the Breeders’ Cup folks resort to such a syetem in the first place? Part of the reason is that we Americans are loathe to acknowledge that horse racing is both a sport and a game, and the name of that game is gambling. It’s the same logic that generated the rule that allowed Modern Games to race at Del Mar only for purse money. The sportsmen among us—the owners, trainers, and jockeys—must have their payday at any cost, while the gamblers alive to Modern Games, well, they were told, in so many words and worthless tickets, to just go pound sand.

Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup

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