04/16/2015 1:01PM

Crist: Politics hamstring Derby points system

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The end of the Kentucky Derby prep season last week marked the third year where Derby berths have been secured under the new points system announced in 2012. On the whole, it has worked well, providing a clearer and more cohesive path to Louisville than the graded-stakes-earnings plan it replaced.

Some tweaking, however, still needs to be done. The same glaring inequities that existed when the plan was unveiled still exist and should be addressed – especially in those cases where decisions have clearly been made to serve Churchill Downs’s corporate self-interest rather than fairness or sport.

The first problem is with the treatment of 2-year-old races, which are not worth enough points and lumped together as if there is no difference among them. Winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is worth only a measly 10 points, the same as every other 2-year-old race and the same as you get for finishing third in the Sunland Park Derby or fourth in the Louisiana Derby.

This self-serving idea that the road to the Derby magically begins with Churchill’s own 10-point, Grade 3 Iroquois – as opposed to the zero-point, Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and Grade 1 Hopeful – is preposterous, as is the notion that the Iroquois is as important as the Champagne, FrontRunner, and Breeders’ Futurity, much less the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

No winner of the Juvenile should ever be excluded from a Derby, and the race should be worth the same 50 points as second-tier 3-year-old races such as the Risen Star and Tampa Bay Derby. As things now stand, you get twice as many points for a second-place finish in those races as you do for winning the Juvenile.

Here’s a hypothetical case that shows that these disparities are more than cosmetic. Let’s say that last year’s Juvenile winner, Texas Red, were still trying to make the Derby field instead of standing on the sidelines. He concluded his 2-year-old campaign with only 12 points. Suppose he had recovered more quickly from his injury and returned with a useful fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. His 12 points would leave him in 31st place on the list of horses currently being pointed for the Derby in two weeks.

The problem here and elsewhere is the fiction that there are three tidy, distinct periods of Derby preps and all the races within those periods are of equal value. The truth is that some November races are more important than others, just as some March races are more important than others. Using the calendar alone to set the boundaries is simply wrong.

This issue comes up again with the final round of races, worth 100 points to the winner. There should be five such events – the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, and Wood Memorial. These are the five Grade 1 races in the division before the Derby. Churchill Downs, however, unjustly elevated the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and the Group 2 United Arab Emirates Derby to the same status as those five. Churchill Downs owns and operates Fair Grounds, the site of the Louisiana Derby.

Of all of Churchill’s self-serving moves – denigrating the rival Breeders’ Cup and overvaluing its own races such as the Iroquois and Louisiana Derby – possibly the worst is the vindictive exiling of the once-important Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. For no apparent or announced reason other than that Churchill Downs owns Arlington, Hawthorne’s rival in the Chicago market, Churchill simply decreed that the Illinois Derby is no longer a Kentucky Derby prep. Despite a purse level and history suggesting it would be more important than many of the 35 other races on the official prep lineup, we’re supposed to believe that Churchill’s ownership of Arlington has nothing to do with its exclusion.

This sort of corporate revenge has no place in the run-up to the nation’s most famous horse race. Churchill is rightfully pleased with the overall performance of the new system, but that does not mean that some its remaining deficiencies should not be remedied, or that one of them won’t create an ugly situation in the future.

slewfan More than 1 year ago
Agree. Also, IMO, fillies have been deliberately excluded unless they can run against males early in 3 year old year. Under these guidelines, we most likely will never gave another filly in the Derby. Not right.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
I like to see a twenty five horse field like the Arc is some years or grand national. Let them run at 116 lbs also
IdealisticStats More than 1 year ago
I'm generally in agreement about the unjust oversight of the Illinois Derby. No reason not to extend the Trail another week to give horses one last chance, and to give those who patronize Hawthorne something to root for. I had constructed and seen through my own version of the Trail, which takes into account several factors: Geography, age, class, and choosing the one best race per track that would befit a race on the Trail. The big difference with my version is to allow representation in the Kentucky Derby from tracks large and small, and a generally equal balance between those racing in the major pockets of tracks across North America (NY, Cali, the bluegrass country, FL, and the South, along with minor tracks who have ungraded races at most). My main disagreement with the Trail is the reliance of having to win mainly in Cali or NY to gain a place, and certainly the denigration of the Breeders Cup events. The BC events are the most important races to win for 2YOs and the point system should reflect that. The point system and the calendar structure aren't fading away any time soon. But a better flow of numbers and $ can and should be built. I believe I have that system.
Marshall Lowe More than 1 year ago
One more thought: since the Coolmore Lexington is traditionally a kind of last chance to get in race, why not move it back to two weeks before the Derby and double the points to 20-10-5. This goofy points system would have denied Mine That Bird, War Emblem, and Charismatic just off the top of my head...
Marshall Lowe More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with the Ill. Derby angle: recent history is that Ill. Derby runners/winners (War Emblem, Musket Man ) fare better than Blue Grass runners and WAY better than anything coming out of the UAE Derby. It is absolutely all politics. Been to over 30 Ky. Derbys and the one consistency is the utter greed of Churchill Downs, Inc. I would suggest, however, that the BC Juvenile should probably be a 40-20-10-5 point race -- it would pretty much assure the winner a spot without rewarding possibly lesser runner ups.
Thomas Nicholson More than 1 year ago
BC Juvenile winner should be 100 points ! Period! End of conversation.
Felton Suthon More than 1 year ago
I could not agree more - this is not Churchill's race, it is our race. When CD sells FG, watch the Louisiana Derby get excluded.
BNastanovich More than 1 year ago
Agree. All points are accurate and clearly stated. Thanks.
Big Moo More than 1 year ago
Totally agree, Mr. Crist. Churchill created a monopoly by forcing horses to participate in certain races, at certain tracks. If the race overfills, they have to go elswhere. The point systems should be abandon. Money earned over a period of time should be the deciding factor, not where it was earned. A million dollars is a million dollars... anywhere, in any language.
mrbascum More than 1 year ago
Anybody remember what the takeout at "Green Mountain" was.
Richard Ransom More than 1 year ago
no but I remember Phil Ernst