By Bob Kieckhefer
The decision to revise the qualifying process for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was a track decision and was not submitted to the Churchill Downs, Inc. board for approval, track president T. Kevin Flanery said Sept. 25.
Flanery, addressing the Illinois Racing Board, said he made the decision to switch from using graded stakes earnings for Derby qualification to a points system including 36 designated races.
"We did we not take this to the Board for approval," he said, adding the CDI board was, however, apprised of the coming change twice before it was announced. "There was a committee, including the racing director, marketing department, and our racing publicist... It comes down to me."
In addition to his role as president of the corporation's flagship track, Flanery also holds the corporate title of senior vice president.
He said he was asked by the IRB to attend its dates' meeting to discuss the decision not to include the Illinois Derby (gr.. III) on the list of Kentucky Derby qualifying races.
Flanery said many criteria were weighed in picking the 36 races that offer points toward Derby participation, including the quality of the horses racing in them, the overall "trajectory" of the host tracks, attendance at potential prep races, and purses.
"The Illinois Derby simply didn't measure up in all the various criteria," he said. Later, he added that those considerations included "performance over the past 10 years: how did the horses in your race do when they got to the Kentucky Derby. The Illinois Derby was the lowest of all the races in that leg" of potential preps, he said.
Flanery said the goal in making a change was to, first, provide "a compelling story line for the public to follow for a longer period of time" by encouraging Derby candidates to compete against each other before the big race and, second, to "protect the integrity of the race" by ensuring it includes the best possible horses.
He said Churchill Downs remains open to suggestions for change in the system for the 2014 Derby and beyond but that no written criteria are in place for tracks that want their races restored to the program.