04/08/2015 2:26PM

Arkansas Derby all about the points

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Coady Photography
Far Right is on the bubble for the Kentucky Derby and needs points in the Arkansas Derby to assure himself a berth.

The Kentucky Derby preps are to the Kentucky Derby as the National Hockey League regular season is to the NHL playoffs. It is a months-long grind that began last fall, it ends on Saturday, and it involves quite a bit of scoreboard watching to see who’s in and who’s out.

A maximum of 20 horses can start in the Derby. If it overfills, then the points earned in the prep races will determine who gets to run. For those on or near the bubble right now, it’s nervous time.

How much scoreboard watching did Ron Moquett, the trainer of Far Right, do last Saturday, when the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, and Wood Memorial were run?

“The honest version – quite a bit,” Moquett said this week on a national teleconference.

The results of those races were mixed for Far Right, who has 22 points and has his final Derby prep Saturday in the Arkansas Derby. The second-place finishers in those three races – One Lucky Dane, Danzig Moon, and Tencendur – each earned 40 points to leapfrog over Far Right. Bolo and Prospect Park earned enough points for their Santa Anita Derby finishes to move past him, too, as did Ocho Ocho Ocho for his third-place finish in the Blue Grass.

:: DERBY WATCH: Top 20 list | Kentucky Derby: Who's hot, who's not

So, as of Wednesday, Far Right sat 23rd on the points list. But that is apt to change. The Arkansas Derby point value – 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth – will alter the standings further. The short history of the Derby points list has shown that the total needed to get in is far lower than what it would appear as far as three weeks out, and there are horses ranked above Far Right whose Derby participation is unlikely.

Far Right could move into the top 20 with at least a fourth-place finish Saturday, but his position would change if he’s outrun by one, two, or three horses who currently have fewer points, like Madefromlucky (20 points), Bold Conquest (17), The Truth Or Else (11), or Mr. Z (14) if he runs in the Arkansas Derby. Of the Arkansas Derby entrants, only American Pharoah, the heavy favorite, has enough points to be assured a berth in the Kentucky Derby.

The race is equally critical for Madefromlucky, Bold Conquest, and The Truth Or Else because even if they finish ahead of Far Right, they might not have more points than him. For instance, if The Truth Or Else runs third and Far Right fourth, Far Right still would have more points (32-31) than The Truth Or Else.

But what will it finally take to actually get into the Derby? Likely fewer points than it might appear as of now.

The current points system was adopted by Churchill Downs for the 2013 Derby, so there have only been two prior runnings under this system, hardly a detailed statistical sampling. But in both prior years, the points necessary to make the Derby field dropped precipitously in the final weeks leading up to the race because horses were injured or the connections of horses with sufficient points took a pass.

In 2013, there were four horses with at least 50 points – Flashback, Govenor Charlie, Hear the Ghost, and Ive Struck a Nerve – who ended up not making the field. Giant Finish got into the Derby with a mere 10 points, and Fear the Kitten, who had 6, would have been in it, too, had Black Onyx been scratched before early betting opened the day before the Derby. There are 24 horses allowed to be entered in the Derby, with the final four being placed on an also-eligible list, in order of points. But those horses have to get in by scratch time on Kentucky Oaks morning, before early Derby betting opens.

In 2014, the final horse who made the field was Commanding Curve, with 20 points, and he ended up running second behind California Chrome. There were four horses who had at least 50 points – Constitution, Midnight Hawk, Ring Weekend, and Toast of New York – who ended up not being entered, owing to either injury or by choice.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

This year, horses who have enough points to make the Derby but are likely to pass include Maftool (40 points), the second-place finisher in the United Arab Emirates Derby, and Ami’s Flatter (40 points), second in the Tampa Bay Derby and third in the Florida Derby.

Maftool is “not a consideration at present,” Jimmy Bell, president of Darley USA, said on Wednesday. Maftool is owned by Godolphin Racing, which like Darley is owned by the ruling Maktoum family of Dubai. Godolphin will have a Derby starter in Frosted, the Wood Memorial winner.

Ami’s Flatter is already at Woodbine, where he is the early favorite for the Queen’s Plate on July 5.

“At this point in time, we’re probably going to wait and aim for the Queen’s Plate,” Josie Carroll, the trainer of Ami’s Flatter, said Wednesday. “But we’re not ruling the Derby out just yet in case it weakens. Right now, though, it looks like a very contentious race.”