03/20/2013 11:06AM

Another Look at the New Derby Points System


For the most part, I like the new points system instituted by Churchill Downs that will be used to determine the starting field in the Kentucky Derby should more than 20 horses enter. I like that this system emphasizes current form over past accomplishment by assigning higher point values to final-round Derby preps. I also like how this system puts second-tier preps with slots-fueled purses, such as Sunday’s Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, into better perspective. Under the old Derby graded earnings rule, once the Sunland Derby became a graded race, its purse made it just about as important a prep as the Florida, Louisiana, Santa Anita, and Arkansas Derbies, and the Wood Memorial. And we know that just isn’t reflective of reality. So in this case, the new points system represents an improvement.

Of course, as is often the case with any new system, items that need fixing become quickly apparent. I detailed a couple in a posting in this space three months ago, which can be found here:


Other issues in a new system take more time to surface, and one such matter in the new Derby point system dawned on me earlier this week. As noted, I like how the big final Derby preps such as the Florida, Louisiana, Santa Anita, and Arkansas Derbies, the Wood Memorial, and the Blue Grass have point values that make them worth twice as much as the big penultimate Derby preps. (As an aside, I do not like the UAE Derby being part of the big Kentucky Derby final prep point group, but that is an issue for another time).

Anyway, a value increase of 100% from the secondary prep group – those races are the Risen Star, Fountain of Youth, Gotham, Tampa Bay Derby, San Felipe, Rebel, Spiral, and Sunland Derby – to the final group of preps makes perfect sense. But in some cases, what doesn’t make sense is the five-fold increase in point values from the first group of Derby point preps to that secondary group of preps.

You can have a hearty debate over the composition of Churchill’s first group of Kentucky Derby point preps, but I don’t think there is any doubt some of those initial preps are seriously undervalued in terms of points offered. While it’s logical that, for example, the Florida Derby is worth twice as much as the Fountain of Youth, and the same is true of the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe, and the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel, I don’t think it makes sense that the Fountain of Youth is worth five times the points as the Holy Bull, and that the same five-fold disparity exists between the San Felipe and the Robert B. Lewis, and the Rebel and the Southwest. In fact, you can make a strong case in these instances, and perhaps in a couple of others as well, that in real-world terms, some initial preps are much closer in value to the group of secondary preps than the secondary preps are to the final preps.

When Churchill introduced the new Derby points system, it promised it would make necessary tweaks to it as we went along. That hasn’t happened yet. But here’s hoping that when this Derby is over, Churchill does sit down and makes some adjustments. The good news is, they don’t have to be major ones. The fundamental philosophy behind the Derby points system is solid.