It's a question we often start asking ourselves in the spring. I suppose it's a natural human desire to want to quantify and contextualize what we see. In many cases we rush to judgment about the quality of the crop. Many of us have made up our minds about the group even before the Derby but I think you'll be able to do a more accurate assessment if you wait until the year is all but over.
So how good was this group? Going into the Derby all the vibes were that the crop was weak. If you believe you can tell anything about a group of horses by their speed figures the suggestion was certainly there that the group was sub-par. The average winning Beyer figure for all Derby preps was 92. That's the lowest on record and a full two points lower than the next slowest group. It was also well below the 99 average that the 2002 crop achieved. A lot of people had condemned this as a poor group just based on that evidence but I personally like to balance speed with accomplishments. After all the 2007 Derby preps were also pretty slow (94 Avg) but the crop went on to be very good indeed.
The Thoroughbred Championship Rankings are essentially like a Beyer Speed Figure but instead of trying to quantify and normalize the speed of a race the aim is to boil down a horses accomplishments into a single number. It has proven to be a pretty accurate gauge of accomplishments over the last 10 years. Here are the TCR scores for the top 10 Three Year Old Males from the last four crops.
As you can likely see, aside from Big Brown the rest of this group looks a little lightweight. In every other season we've had at least two three year olds break the 200 point mark. That is a stat that has held all the way back to 1999. This is the first time in recorded history that the sophomores haven't achieved that. Tale of Ekati is ranked second this year but would have been only seventh against last years group. Court Vision might be the top three year old Turf Male but he's no where near the level of Nobiz Like Showbiz, Showing Up or even Daytona. Fatal Bullet is the best sophomore sprinter but the best three year old sprinters from previous years were also much more accomplished.
As you can see from the averages the 2008 crop is the weakest and the 2007 crop was by far the strongest.
If you don't really believe in numbers like Beyer Figures or point systems perhaps you might just accept the actual record of the crop against older horses. Below is a list of the Graded Stakes wins achieved by the top 10 three year olds listed in the spreadsheet above.
2008: 1 G-1
2007: 5 G-1, 2 G-2
2006: 3 G-1
2005: 1 G-1, 1 G-2
Tale of Ekati's recent victory in the Cigar Mile is the only open company Graded Stakes victory achieved by one of the top 10 three year olds. Obviously Raven's Pass took the Classic as well but he doesn't count in these numbers because he's not part of the North American crop. The 2007 group was something special. For 10 horses to amass 7 Graded Stakes victories in open company is no small feat.