The revamped "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series kicks off Sept. 29 with points awarded to the top four finishers in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge (Eng-II) at Newmarket and the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
In June, Churchill Downs announced it would institute a qualifying point system for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), abandoning the graded stakes criteria that was used from 1986-2012 to determine which 20 horses would have preference for America's greatest race. Condensed to 36 races, points will be awarded to the top four finishers in each "Road to the Kentucky Derby" qualifying event.
The Royal Lodge and FrontRunner (formerly known as the Norfolk) are two of 19 races that comprise the "Kentucky Derby Prep Season" between late September and mid-February in which points will be awarded on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The one-mile Royal Lodge is the lone juvenile race outside North America and only grass race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. Three horses have exited the one-mile event and run in the Derby: 1995 winner Eltish (6th in the Derby); 2005 third-place finisher Wilko (6th in the Derby); and 2011 winner Daddy Long Legs, who eventually went on to win the UAE Derby (UAE-II) but finished last of 20 in the Run for the Roses, eased after racing close to the pace through the first half-mile.
Nine of the last 21 Royal Lodge winners have raced in North America at some point in their career. The race was the launching pad for 2004 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko, 2009 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York, and 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) winner Wrote. Two years ago, unbeaten $3.6 million-earner Frankel made his stakes debut in the race and signaled stardom with a 10-length romp.
The Sept. 29 field of nine for the $161,980 Royal Lodge includes the Aidan O'Brien-trained Afonso de Sousa, a Henrythenavigator colt who is a half brother to 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown . The race is scheduled for an approximate post time of 8:55 a.m. EDT.
In the $250,000 FrontRunner, Reddam Racing's Best Pal (gr. II) winner Know More will face 10 rivals, including three from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Three-time Derby winner Baffert, who entered Carving, Den's Legacy, and Power Broker, has won the race a record five times. California's 1 1/16-mile steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile will go as race seven at 4:07 p.m. PDT.
Gato Del Sol is the lone horse to have exited the race and won the 1982 Kentucky Derby the following year. The Eddie Gregson-trained colt finished third in the 1981 renewal. Last year, Creative Cause won the race, but finished fifth in the Derby.