Churchill Revamps Derby Qualifying System

Churchill Revamps Derby Qualifying System
Photo: Mallory Haigh
The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs has revamped the qualifying system for the 139-year-old Kentucky Derby (gr. I), abandoning the graded stakes earnings criteria it has used since 1986 to determine which 20 horses get into the field and instituting a point system to qualify for the 1 ¼-mile classic on the first Saturday in May.

The new system – officially branded as the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” – was formally announced June 14 during an annual meeting of shareholders for Churchill Downs Incorporated. It features 36 stakes including 17 marquee events for 3-year-olds that comprise a compact, 10-week run up to the race to be known as the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series.”
 
The Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) will utilize a similar point system to select its maximum field of 14 3-year-old fillies. The systems go into effect for the 2013 running of both races.

“Our primary driving motive is to create new fans for horse racing,” said CDI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Evans. “We’re implementing a more fan-friendly, cohesive and simplified system that should create compelling drama and appeal to a wider customer base. Fans, as well as the owners and trainers of the horses, will know exactly which races are included and what races matter the most based on a sliding scale of points.”
 
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system narrows the path a contender may take to the race from approximately 185 graded stakes worldwide – including 60 open races and another 43 races restricted to fillies in North America – that counted toward the Derby selection under the previous eligibility process. The new series will be divided into two phases, each offering different points to the top four finishers of each race.

Phase one, Kentucky Derby Prep Season, includes 19 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are typically run between late September and late February. The lone exception is England’s Royal Lodge (ENG-II), an international juvenile steppingstone carded at one mile on turf at Newmarket. Points will be awarded to the top four finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and $1 million Delta Jackpot (gr. III) are included in this division.

Phase two, the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, is a three-part collection of 17 marquee races on dirt or synthetic surfaces run over distances of at least one mile that traditionally occur over a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May.

The first leg of the Championship Series includes eight events in which victory is worth 50 points – the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, the Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) at Tampa Bay Downs, the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, the Rebel (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park, and the Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park. Second- through fourth-place finishers receive a 20-10-5 point scale.

The second leg features seven stakes races – the Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, $2 million UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan, the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct, the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby (gr. I), and the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland – that are worth 100-40-20-10.

The final leg is two “Wild Card” events, the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland and The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, which offer some hope for horses to increase their point totals with a 20-8-4-2 scale.
 
The Top 20 point earners will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if more than 20 horses enter the race (at least 20 horses have entered the Derby every year since 2004 and 12 of the last 14 years). Up to 24 horses may enter and four horses may be listed as “also eligible” with the potential of drawing into the field should any of the higher-ranked entrants be scratched in the days leading up to the race.
 
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker to get into the Derby or Oaks fields will be earnings in non-restricted stakes races, whether graded or not. In the event of a dead-heat in a Road to the Kentucky Derby race, those horses will divide equally the points they would have received jointly had one beaten the other.
 
Churchill Downs officials decided to move forward with a change in the system after commissioning a poll of more than 300 sports fans nationwide that showed 83% did not understand how a Thoroughbred qualified to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
 
“People understand that the Kentucky Derby is the Super Bowl of horse racing, but they don’t understand what the ‘league’ structure is and what the series is to get there,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “We think by simplifying this series with a point system, making it more cohesive and introducing the ‘Kentucky Derby Championship Series’ in the 10 weeks that precede the race can spark fan interest and engage the casual fan earlier. If there’s compelling drama and people have a better understanding of what it takes to get into the Derby, we think there’s a good chance they’ll become more interested in our sport.”
 
If a filly wants to run in the Kentucky Derby she can, but she’ll have to earn her way into the field by accumulating points against open company. Additionally, any points earned by a filly in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series against open company will be credited to her point total in the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series, which includes a similar two-tier program with “prep season” consisting of races like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and the California Oaks (gr. I) and “championship season” including the UAE Oaks (UAE-III) in the first leg of the series, the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), Gulfstream Oaks (gr. I), and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) in the second leg, and Keeneland’s Beaumont Stakes (gr. II) as the “wild card.”

Churchill Downs officials will review which races will be included in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series annually. Plans call for the schedule to be announced each July.
 
“We want to maximize the quality of the Derby field and protect the integrity of the race, while respecting the tradition and relevance of paths taken to the race by previous Kentucky Derby winners and prominent starters,” Flanery said.

ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY
KENTUCKY  DERBY PREP SEASON
Race Distance Track Location 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Royal Lodge 1 M (T) Newmarket England 10 4 2 1
Norfolk 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Breeders’ Futurity 1 1/16 M (S) Keeneland Kentucky 10 4 2 1
Champagne 1 M Belmont New York 10 4 2 1
Grey 1 1/16 M (S) Woodbine Canada 10 4 2 1
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Delta Downs Jackpot 1 1/16 M Delta Downs Louisiana 10 4 2 1
Remsen 1 1/8 M Aqueduct New York 10 4 2 1
Kentucky Jockey Club 1 1/16 M Churchill Downs Kentucky 10 4 2 1
CashCall Futurity 1 1/16 M (S) Hollywood Park California 10 4 2 1
Sham 1 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Smarty Jones 1 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 10 4 2 1
Lecomte 1 M 70 Y Fair Grounds Louisiana 10 4 2 1
Holy Bull 1 M Gulfstream Park Florida 10 4 2 1
Robert B. Lewis 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Sam F. Davis 1 1/16 M Tampa Bay Downs Florida 10 4 2 1
Withers 1 1/16 M Aqueduct New York 10 4 2 1
El Camino Real Derby 1 1/8 M (S) Golden Gate California 10 4 2 1
Southwest 1 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 10 4 2 1
KENTUCKY  DERBY CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Race Distance Track Location 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
First Leg of Series              
Risen Star 1 1/16 M Fair Grounds Louisiana 50 20 10 5
Fountain of Youth 1 1/16 M Gulfstream Park Florida 50 20 10 5
Gotham 1 1/16 M Aqueduct New York 50 20 10 5
Tampa Bay Derby 1 1/16 M Tampa Bay Downs Florida 50 20 10 5
San Felipe 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 50 20 10 5
Rebel 1 1/16 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 50 20 10 5
Spiral 1 1/8 M (S) Turfway Park Kentucky 50 20 10 5
Sunland Derby 1 1/8 M Sunland Park New Mexico 50 20 10 5
Second Leg of Series              
Florida Derby 1 1/8 M Gulfstream Park Florida 100 40 20 10
UAE Derby 1 3/16 M (S) Meydan Racecourse Dubai 100 40 20 10
Louisiana Derby 1 1/8 M Fair Grounds Louisiana 100 40 20 10
Wood Memorial 1 1/8 M Aqueduct New York 100 40 20 10
Santa Anita Derby 1 1/8 M Santa Anita California 100 40 20 10
Arkansas Derby 1 1/8 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 100 40 20 10
Blue Grass 1 1/8 M (S) Keeneland Kentucky 100 40 20 10
“Wild Card”              
Lexington 1 1/16 M (S) Keeneland Kentucky 20 8 4 2
The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial 1 M Churchill Downs Kentucky 20 8 4 2

                                    
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY OAKS
KENTUCKY  OAKS PREP SEASON
Race Distance Track Location 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Fillies’ Mile 1 M (T) Newmarket England 10 4 2 1
Oak Leaf 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Alcibiades 1 1/16 M (S) Keeneland Kentucky 10 4 2 1
Frizette 1 M Belmont New York 10 4 2 1
Mazarine 1 1/16 M (S) Woodbine Canada 10 4 2 1
Pocahontas 1 M Churchill Downs Kentucky 10 4 2 1
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Delta Downs Princess 1 M Delta Downs Louisiana 10 4 2 1
Demoiselle 1 1/8 M Aqueduct New York 10 4 2 1
Golden Rod 1 1/16 M Churchill Downs Kentucky 10 4 2 1
Hollywood Starlet 1 1/16 M (S) Hollywood Park California 10 4 2 1
Old Hat 6 F Gulfstream Park Florida 10 4 2 1
Busanda 1 M Aqueduct New York 10 4 2 1
Santa Ynez 6 ½ F Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Silverbulletday 1 M 70 Y Fair Grounds Louisiana 10 4 2 1
California Oaks 1 1/16 M (S) Golden Gate California 10 4 2 1
Santa Ysabel 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 10 4 2 1
Forward Gal 7 F Gulfstream Park Florida 10 4 2 1
UAE 1000 Guineas 1 M (S) Meydan Race Course Dubai 10 4 2 1
Martha Washington 1 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 10 4 2 1
KENTUCKY  OAKS CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Race Distance Track Location 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
First Leg of Series              
UAE Oaks 1 3/16 M (S) Meydan Racecourse Dubai 50 20 10 5
Davona Dale 1 1/16 M Gulfstream Park Florida 50 20 10 5
Rachel Alexandra 1 1/16 M Fair Grounds Louisiana 50 20 10 5
Las Virgenes 1 M Santa Anita California 50 20 10 5
Honeybee 1 1/16 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 50 20 10 5
Cicada 6 F Aqueduct New York 50 20 10 5
Bourbonette Oaks 1 M (S) Turfway Park Kentucky 50 20 10 5
Sunland Park Oaks 1 1/16 M Sunland Park New Mexico 50 20 10 5
Second Leg of Series              
Fair Grounds Oaks 1 1/16 M Fair Grounds Louisiana 100 40 20 10
Gulfstream Oaks 1 1/8 M Gulfstream Park Florida 100 40 20 10
Santa Anita Oaks 1 1/16 M Santa Anita California 100 40 20 10
Ashland 1 1/16 M (S) Keeneland Kentucky 100 40 20 10
Comely 1 M Aqueduct New York 100 40 20 10
Fantasy 1 1/16 M Oaklawn Park Arkansas 100 40 20 10
“Wild Card”              
Beaumont 7 F (S) Keeneland Kentucky 20 8 4 2

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