Nearly every day, I evaluate quality. As a high school English teacher, I collect work from my students, I decide how good it is, and I grade it. The worthiness of the work is, unfortunately and too often, inextricably linked to the grade it receives.
And a long time ago, I learned that it’s a pretty good idea to let students know how they’re going to be evaluated: What criteria am I’m going to use to determine the grade? Of what skills or understanding am I trying to assess mastery? How are different elements of the work going to be prioritized or weighted?
So as I give students assignments, in most cases, I provide a set of grading guidelines, so that they know the standards by which their work will be judged. They might not always agree with my assessment, but at least they know, for the most part, how I got there.
Last week, I found myself wishing for a similar set of guidelines when I heard about this year’s Racing Hall of Fame class, and I learned that Point Given had been elected and that Sky Beauty had not.
Point Given made 13 starts in a racing career that lasted one year and 13 days: he made his first start on August 12, 2000, and his last race was August 25, 2001. He had nine wins, six of them in Grade I races, and three seconds, both of those in Grade 1’s, one of them by a nose to Macho Uno in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; that race was Macho Uno’s only U.S. Grade I win. Point Given raced at nine tracks in five states.
He won the Preakness and the Belmont, and he’s one of six horses to have added the Travers to that double. The horse that he beat in the Preakness and the Belmont, A P Valentine, won one Grade 1 race, the Champagne. Congaree, winner of six Grade I’s, finished third in Point Given’s Preakness. Monarchos, who finished third in Point Given’s Belmont, owned two Grade I wins, in the Kentucky and Florida Derbies. It’s not as though Point Given was beating up on slouches in his classic victories.
Neither E Dubai nor Dollar Bill, who ran second and third in Point Given’s Travers, ever won a Grade I. In two races—the Haskell and the San Felipe—Point Given gave weight to the competitors he beat.
Sky Beauty made her first start in July of 1992 and retired 21 races later, in June of 1995. Her record was 15-2-2. Of her 15 wins, 9 were in Grade I races; she’d have won a 10th Grade I if not for a questionable disqualification in the Spinaway. Four additional victories were in Grade II races.
Sky Beauty was a New York horse; she raced in Florida, Kentucky, and California, but she never won away from New York, and she was well beaten both times that she ran in the Distaff.
A knock often made against her is the small size of the fields in which she ran; a number of her victories came against three or four rivals. In the 1994 Ruffian, Sky Beauty beat four horses; Dispute finished second, Educated Risk third. The former won four Grade I’s, the latter won two and placed in a number of others. Sky Beauty carried 130 pounds to Dispute’s 117 and Educated Risk’s 114. She regularly beat horses carrying ten or fewer pounds than she did.
In 1993, Sky Beauty won the Filly Triple Crown—the Triple Tiara—by winning the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks. She’s one of only three horses to win those three races and the Grade I Alabama.
I’ve discussed longevity of career; horses beaten; stakes races won; on my racing Hall of Fame rubric, these would be weighted more heavily than some of the other elements that make up the career of a racehorse. Some of you – maybe many of you – would select different criteria as significant.
The same is undoubtedly true of the Hall of Fame voters, who are not given any guidelines to consider in their voting. Like teachers, they bring to their assessments their own senses of what’s important; almost certainly, they also bring their own biases and prejudices. Absent are standards to guide their decisions; absent is an explanation – the teacher’s comment, if you will – of how decisions are reached, of how the “grades” are given.
So while Sky Beauty raced in only sex-restricted races and won only in New York, from my perspective, her career is the more impressive of the two. I look at Point Given’s races and wonder whether the primacy of the 3-year-old colt and the allure of the Triple Crown races really mean that Point Given is worthier of induction than a filly who raced more than he did, who won more Grade I races than he did, and who faced competition at least as, if not more, demanding, than he did.
The answer, at least in the minds of a majority of the Hall of Fame voters, is, apparently, yes.