Point Given & Sky Beauty: Assessing the Quality of the 2010 Hall of Fame Class

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.

6 thoughts on “Point Given & Sky Beauty: Assessing the Quality of the 2010 Hall of Fame Class

  1. Sky Beauty being a HoF finalist represents the summit of east coast/NY cynicism and bias; the same myopic impulse that launched Rachel to HoY last year, and will anoint Quality Road to the same position this year over Zenyatta.

    If Sky Beauty is a HoFer, then so is Hollywood Wildcat. The latter crushed the former in the 1993 BC Distaff, while defeating HoFer Paseana in a classic stretch duel. HW actually defeated SB in the 1994 Distaff, as well, though both ran up the track.

    SB couldn’t warm up Hollywood Wildcat, but you’ll see no clamoring for a HoF spot for a west coast horse the same way you will a NY darling. All of those GRI wins in NY, where she beat no one, sure look daunting now. But, there are too many of us who actually remember her beating no one, and being incapable of shipping anywhere to defeat a real mare.

    If you really want a horse (and a mare to boot) to compare against the agreeably pathetic record of Point Given, then look no further than Xtra Heat. That’s a mare that should be in the HoF and put together a career that should be the envy of all in the upper echelons of racing today. Sadly, she’ll never be considered for her worthy and due honor.

    • “Reality”: Your comment reminds me a bit of one I received on BelmontStakes.com last year, when in response to a post I’d written about how much Easy Goer’s Belmont to his fans, a commenter felt compelled to point out that Sunday Silence was the better horse. To paraphrase Ernie Munick, you may well be right about a point that I’m not making. Hollywood Wildcat’s accomplishment was duly noted in her end-of-year championship, and I didn’t say a thing about how she measured up to Sky Beauty. My questions are about how she compares to Point Given.

      The reliance on “Easy Coast bias” feels a little too easy to me here, even given the preponderance of East Coast voices on the nominating committee

      All of that said: thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to denigrate Sky Beauty’s accomplishments in order to laud Hollywood Wildcat’s, but everyone’s entitled to his opinion, and thanks for sharing yours.

  2. Teresa,

    The only quibble I have with your comment is when you concluded with “The answer, at least in the minds of a majority of the Hall of Fame voters, is, apparently, yes.”

    In truth, we have no idea what the majority of voters thought. There were 10 nominees and we don’t know if either Point Given or Sky Beauty got a vote from the majority of balloters. Since the Hall of Fame steadfastly refuses to publish vote totals, only a few sequestered bean counters know.

    It is very possible Point Given could have been a winner with less than a majority of votes, while Sky Beauty could have finished fifth, one vote behind him and been excluded.

    Some how the Hall of Fame manages to turn what should be a celebration into a bumbling controversy year after year. The 2010 rules for voting were an improvement, but still below the standard of excellence which the nominees exhibited during their careers. They, and racing fans, deserve better.

  3. Personally, I think Sky Beauty is suffering from running too long ago and before a string of really, really good fillies (Azeri, Zenyatta, RA, and even Ashado and Rags to Riches). There’s been enough excellent fillies over the last 10 years that the ones from the 80’s and early 90’s are now kind of forgotten.

    To the Hollywood Wildcat supporter: both of these horses were a mile better than Silverbulletday, who built her entire record on beating on third tier horses–she never ran against Excellent Meeting or Three Ring after the BC Juvenile Fillies and was ordinary against older horses. She’s the one in the HOF that we should be annoyed about.

  4. Hollywood Wildcat isn’t the only contemporary she suffers in comparison to. In her last year of racing she also lost to Inside Information and Heavenly Prize. Serena’s Song is also a contemporary.

    But if you are a HW or SB fan, all is not lost. On a different thread, I figured only 9 sure fire HOFers for the ’00s. And I considered Xtra Heat (good call), but I feel Safely Kept should be there before her. I didn’t consider Point Given but pointed out that AP Indy opened the door for lightly raced 3 year olds with near flawless records. Is PG the first male HOFer to race only to 3 and not beat his elders since Majestic Prince?

  5. Absolutely, Sky Beauty belongs in the HOF..

    Her accomplishments speak for themselves..

    To the poster(Reality aka Delusional) who says its east coast biased, that is an absurd comment. While Hollywood Wildcat was a very nice horse and a BC winner, her resume outside of the BC is nowhere near that of Sky Beauty. Hollywood Wildcat accounted for just TWO Grade I wins in her entire career outside of the BC.. Sky Beauty had NINE.. if you think beating the likes of Educated Risk and Dispute is no one, you have an alarmingly short memory. How many Times did Hollywood Wildcat carry 130lbs to win a Grade I?

    The east coast bias argument gets weaker and weaker the more it is used, be sparing with it in the future.

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