08/09/2013 4:25PM

Churchill Downs tweaks points system for Kentucky Derby eligibility

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The points system introduced last year to determine eligibility for the 2013 Kentucky Derby will remain mostly the same for the 2014 Derby, Churchill Downs announced Friday.

Four races were removed from the points system, including the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs and the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, while two races were added: the Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds at Churchill and the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct for 3-year-olds, held just after the start of the new year.

The other races dropped were the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park, a $750,000 race for 2-year-olds that will be held for the last time this year because of the closing of the track, and the Royal Lodge Stakes, a race for 2-year-olds held at Newmarket in England.

Left untouched was the overall structure of the points system, which awards 10 times as many points to horses who run in significant stakes races in the six weeks prior to the Derby than to horses running in the richest 2-year-old stakes in the United States.

[MORE: For a list of races on the road to the 2014 Kentucky Derby, click here.]

Under the system, for example, the winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile receives 10 points toward eligibility, while the winner of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby five weeks before the Kentucky Derby receives 100 points. (The Louisiana Derby is held at Fair Grounds, the New Orleans property owned by Churchill Downs’s parent company.)

Churchill officials continued to defend the structure following the release of the schedule Friday, pointing to figures showing that handle in the 16 races with the most points increased 7 percent last year from the year prior.

“We think those are powerful metrics, and we continue to believe that the system encourages meaningful competition with an emphasis on current form rather than past accomplishment,” said Darren Rogers, Churchill’s senior director of communications. “We’re trying to identify the best 3-year-olds to go the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles on dirt.”

The removal of the Derby Trial and a 50 percent cut in the points awarded in the Lexington Stakes, held at Keeneland two weeks before the Derby, significantly reduce the value of the races Churchill had called “wild cards” under the system. With the Derby Trial gone, a runner hoping to get into the field late can, at best, earn 10 points with a Lexington win, compared with 20 for a win in that race or the Derby Trial this year.

In the 2013 Derby, the last horse in the field, Giant Finish, qualified with 10 points. Orb and Verrazano had 150 points each.

The Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero is once again left out of the schedule, an omission that generated considerable criticism last year. Following the omission, Hawthorne, which has clashed with Churchill over its role as the owner and operator of nearby Arlington Park, moved the Illinois Derby to a spot on the calendar two weeks prior to the Derby and raised the purse to $750,000.

Rogers said he would not comment on any reason why a race was included or excluded from the points system.

“I can say that our team had some good discussions with shareholders, and that we deliberated internally,” Rogers said. “We’re comfortable with some of the tough decisions that had to be made.”

Churchill also implemented a similar system to determine eligibility for this year’s Kentucky Oaks. The Oaks system was tweaked as well, though to a greater degree, with a net loss of five races that will go toward determining eligibility, from 34 for this year’s Oaks to 29 for the 2014 race.