Does Class Matter in Graded Stakes? This Study Will Shock You!

A long time ago, I read a handicapping book — for the life of me, I can’t remember the title — that made the point that previous stakes winners had a huge advantage in added-money races. And while I’ve never been dogmatic about it, I do think it makes sense, especially in graded events for older horses, to give extra credit to horses that have won or performed well in similar races in the past.

I thought about this as I cracked open the past performances for this year’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational, which features a whopping six previous Grade I champions, along with four Grade II victors, a Grade III winner and three horses (two of which are also-eligibles) that have failed to capture a stakes race of any kind.

And it got me to thinking: Statistically speaking, what are the chances of an older horse winning a graded race for the first time, particularly if there are other graded winners in the field? So, I queried my database of over 1,100 graded stakes races for 3-year-olds and up run between 2012-2013 at tracks across North America and here’s what I found:


Not surprisingly, Grade III races yielded little of consequence. In fact, it could be argued that no graded wins is actually a plus on the first step of the graded ladder, at least from a return on investment (ROI) perspective.

However, starting with Grade II races, the advantage of a horse showing a win against similar company somewhere in its past performances (last 10 races) became manifest, as the following digits demonstrate:


Now, keeping in mind that we’re dealing with a pretty small sample here, check out the impact value (IV) and ROI for horses with a previous Grade I or Grade II score. Conversely, look at the horrible numbers for horses that don’t show such a victory.

You think that might help you bet more winners in Grade II stakes?

And the trend continued with Grade I races:


Once again, we see strong numbers for older horses with at least one previous Grade I win and poor numbers for those without.

So, remember this when you’re trying to handicap Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup and all the other graded races this weekend.

Class matters… a lot.

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