03/20/2013 12:06PM

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.

Richard More than 1 year ago
Well Mike, it seems that you are not the only one who seems to like this new point system. Andy Beyer seems to like it too. I pay attention to people like you and Andy who I respect to be good journalists! There are some forms of journalism that have really got off the track now days!
carol More than 1 year ago
The 7 100pt races and the 8 50pt races are most probably win and your in.....initial thinking that about 40pts gets you in....that means if there are no repeaters ...these 15 races could account for 3/4 of derby field... .... I think ALL point races should be run on this continent... .... Do not see any thing fair about Churchill/Arlington connection excluding the Ill Derby
Sam More than 1 year ago
I agree the UAE Derby should not be included in the point system - nor should anyother race outside the U.S. The Derby is to determine which is the best colt - or filly - in the U.S. on the first Sat. in May. Re: bleaking the pt. system now, well, you dont' change the rules in the middle of the game. I agree with you on some races in the third tier, etc. , but I think Churchill will bleak that as you say after the Derby. Finally, I like Jay and your analysis of the colts in Derby Watch. Altho, I don't necessarily agree with your place rating, you [or Jay] occasionally state something that I overlooked in my own handicapping of the Derby results.[My best was in 1964. when I picked Northern Dancer for the Derby and Preakness, but jumped off him for the Belmont and went with Quadrangle.\
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, It would appear that the new KD point system has accomplished it's main goal – generate early buzz and excitement. I mean this IS mainly about entertainment. No? Most people don't follow horses year 'round, so if Derby Points Talk draws some into the fold sooner, then mission accomplished. If this were about fairness, then the Illinois Derby would be a Fifty Pointer. And given that 50% of the Breeder's Cup events are now at Churchill Downs you'd think that the Juvenile would get a bump to a Fifty Pointer as well. Finally, if the Dudes from Dubai think they have a boss horse there is a path to Louisville. Don't know how often it will be used, but these Derby Bucks are not transferable. I still think there are a number of pretty good horses and are well thought of but will be on the outside looking in when the final point totals are tallied. It makes for some excitingly big races coming up the next few weekends. And that is a good thing. The points being the point. Thanks.
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
The UAE Derby is 2 Million so it would count more in earnings than in points, so if you don't like it in the new point system way you should like it less in the old money earnings system way
John More than 1 year ago
Marilyn is absolutely right, and that's a shame. "Win and you're in" may be fine for the Breeders' Cup, but for the Derby? (If you think so, look up Keats) But think about this - a horse could win the G1 Champagne, G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, G3 Lecomte, G3 Southwest, AND the G2 Rebel, earn 90 points, then have something go wrong in the G1 Arkansas Derby, finish worse than 4th, and lose out on a Derby trip to a "one-hit wonder" who freaks in the G1Arkansas Derby and "earns" 100 points! There is no way that 5 graded stakes wins on 4 different tracks should earn less than 1. My guess is that, maybe not this field, but probably next year's may be one of the weakest fields ever unless significant changes are made.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Your theoretical 90-point earner would have no trouble getting into the field. There are only 7 100-point races, and one of them is in Dubai and likely (this year at least) to be won by a Southern Hemisphere 3yo who is not eligible to run in the Ky Derby. And it is quite likely that a couple of them will be won by horses who already have enough points. After all, the minimum will probably be in the 40-60 range, not 90.
Steven Wells More than 1 year ago
With this point system would Eight Belles have been able to run in the KD Mike?
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
If the race were not oversubscribed, she would. If it was, she wouldn't.
Kevin More than 1 year ago
Before anyone suggests changes I would say let someone who disagrees go back over the last ten years when we have had overscribed race and see who would have not started. More importantly for those who actually mattered as noted in the statement that said all the good horses from last year would have started. All the important preps have the most money save for a couple of inflated races.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
The second finisher in the Florida Derby in 2010 (Pleasant Prince) and the official third in the Santa Anita Derby in 2004 (Rock Hard Ten, who finished first but was DQ'd) both missed the cut in the graded-money listings and didn't run in the Derby. It was this kind of horse that the points system is designed to reward, as opposed to the Delta Downs big money winners, who have never had much to say about Derby finishes anyway.
Marilyn More than 1 year ago
It is essentially a "win and you're in" situation now. Any April win is in. March wins probably also. Just make the 15 March-April wins automatic entries and add a few others including the BC Juvies, some Oaks-type to let females in. Then, if you must have 20 horses running, just figure a way to have some also-eligibles to allow for duplications or drop outs.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Its not that Churchill Downs 'must' have 20 horses running. The management has determined that 20 is the absolute maximum that the track can handle and they LIMIT the field to 20. Remember, it was the experience with the 24-horse field in the 100th Derby in 1974 that led to the restriction in the first place. In years without a core group of 3 or 4 standouts (each circuit dominated by a single horse), everyone who owns a 3yo MSW winner wants to run. Have to draw the line somewhere. Graded earnings wasn't working, what with slots money pumping up purses in lower level races. Had to try something new. You do realize that Eight Belles is the only filly to have hit the board in the Derby without previously running against males? And even some of those who had won major Derby preps (Silver Spoon won the Santa Anita Derby, Althea won the Arkansas Derby) didn't hit the board (5th and 19th). But I doubt winning an open prep would have been hard for her, since Big Brown's year wasn't a vintage one for male 3yos.
Senor Enrico More than 1 year ago
The Kentucky Derby should have its graded status revoked. According to The Graded Stake Committee, a race can not be graded if there are restrictions other than age or sex. It can be argued that The Kentucky Derby is putting a restriction that a horse run in one of its prep races in order to gain points and thus run in its race. Also The Graded Stakes Committee states that a race can not be graded if there is/are provisions that result in better horses being excluded. Say there is an champion filly like Rachael who preps in any of the Oaks races, she would be excluded. Genuine Risk would not have be allowed to run in the Derby according to this new point system. How about Arazi? After his unbelievable performance in the Juvenile, he may have been excluded. How about Cannerro II who won the derby but was a foreign horse. Sooner or later there will be a future champ who wants to run in the Derby and will be excluded because he/she doesnt conform to the point system. The Kentucky Derby should be open to all 3yos male or female running anywhere in the world. No exclusions. Selecting from an over subscribed race should be done via a graded stake point system that includes any race in the world, not your politically (IL Derby) selected few races!
Edward More than 1 year ago
And there may have been horses who would have won the derby if they had not missed the field because they did not have enough earnings in previous years. So what is your point? The KD is unique, what other race has more than 20 horses entered and needs a system to narrow it down? Your idea is lame.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Genuine Risk ran and would have run because only 13 were entered and any limit mechanism was and would not needed to keep the field under 21. Arazi shouldn't have run. He hadn't grown at all from his 2yo season and he wasn't prepared in a rational way for a 10f dirt race.