04/27/2016 1:36PM

Derby Watch: Points system having desired impact

Barbara D. Livingston
Mo Tom, training at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, is No. 20 on the Kentucky Derby points list.

The Kentucky Derby will be run for the 142nd time on May 7, but this year will be just the fourth since the current system to determine the starting field has been in effect – one based on points – and the implications are noticeable.

With Churchill Downs making the races closest to the Derby worth the most points and eliminating the previous system – one based on earnings in graded stakes races – the field has become far more predicated on current form, which was the intention of Churchill when it came up with the new system. It seems, too, that trainers are learning how to manage their horses under the current system, because the cutoff to make this year’s Derby field looks as though it will be the highest to date.

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

In 2013, the first year for which points determined who got the coveted 20 slots in the Derby field, a mere 10 points were needed to make the race after a rash of late defections.

In 2014, 20 points were needed, and the last horse who got in, Commanding Curve, finished second to California Chrome.


Last year, 22 points were needed on entry day to make the original field, but after a late scratch, Frammento – who had 20 points – drew in from the also-eligible list.

This year, one week out from entry day, May 4, 32 points are needed to get a spot in the field. There are four horses with 32 points, but Mo Tom secured the 20th spot because of the tiebreaker, earnings in non-restricted stakes races. Fellowship, Adventist, and Laoban – who also have 32 points – are ranked 21st through 23rd, in that order, reflecting their earnings in non-restricted stakes.

:: PEDIGREE PROFILE: Exaggerator

If nothing changes over the next week, Fellowship, Adventist, Laoban, and 24th-ranked Dazzling Gem – who has 30 points – could still be entered, as up to four also-eligibles are allowed at entry time. Their connections can then hope to draw in before scratch time on Kentucky Oaks morning, the day before the Derby.

Had the prior system, earnings in graded stakes, still been in effect, the complexion of this year’s Derby might have changed significantly because horses who earned considerable cash at age 2 or early this year at 3 but have not progressed in the last few months could have supplanted those who have more points.

For instance, Sunny Ridge ($450,000) and Airoforce ($449,080) have far more graded-stakes earnings than top-20 point earners Destin, Danzing Candy, Shagaf, Tom’s Ready, Mo Tom, My Man Sam, Majesto, and Trojan Nation (the latter three were runners-up in final-round Derby preps that offered 100 points for first and 40 for second). Under the points system, Sunny Ridge and Airoforce are ranked well below those eight runners.

It’s very likely that Sunny Ridge and Airoforce wouldn’t be running under the old system anyway, owing to their recent performances, but this helps illustrate how the points system differs from the system based on graded-stakes earnings.

Other horses with terrific 2-year-old form who did not advance at 3 but whose earnings under the old system would have left them in the Derby field were Swipe ($520,600) and Greenpointcrusader ($379,300). They, too, are well down the points list, with 12 and 14.

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

Assuming, though, that the horses still under consideration for this year’s Derby would not change whether the system being used was points or earnings, there still are permutations near the bottom of the points list that are intriguing.

For instance, the connections of Uncle Lino – currently ranked 25th on points – were monitoring the Derby field and were considering running in the race had there been wholesale changes to the field. That won’t happen, and he’s not running. However, if the old earnings system was still in play, Uncle Lino’s graded-stakes earnings ($174,000) would have placed him above Fellowship ($169,250), Adventist ($155,000), Dazzling Gem ($150,000), and Laoban ($142,000). He’d be in.

The points system also puts a premium on two-turn races. Horses who earned gobs of cash in one-turn races can’t get in unless they prove their mettle around two turns. Nyquist is a prime example of a horse who has handled that jump. Awesome Banner (0 points but $195,400 in graded earnings) did not.

As a result, pure sprinters – like Trinniberg, Bodemeister’s pace nemesis in 2012 – aren’t in the Derby field. The change from graded earnings to points came one year too late for Bodemeister. How the points system and its impact on pace will affect this year’s field is among the many factors handicappers will be evaluating after the field is drawn and post time nears.

Geir Stabell More than 1 year ago
The UAE Derby offers as many points as the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby - quite absurd, in my opinion. Of course, the UAE Derby can throw up a high class horse but Street Cry's 3yo season is some way behind us now, and the race has nothing to do with the US stakes calendar. How is its 'Group status' decided, by the way? This year's UAE Derby winner is nowhere near worthy of eraning 100 points in one, cheap, go at getting into the Kentucky Derby field. All qualifying races should be run in North America. The Kentucky Derby is America's race. The Breeders' Cup is, or at least as close to it as we will ever get, a World Championships event. Those races deserve an international 'qualification system'. Not the Triple Crown races. Geir Stabell / globeform
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
There isnt nearly as many sidelined horses this year.  That makes the bar higher.  Horses that dont run as fast have less problems.  Uncle mo's kids are staying healthy.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I was originally against the point system but it really has not made a difference to the derby. Last year I think it only affected one entrant and this year it's pretty much the same. Some of the examples of horses that are left out like Awesome Banner,Uncle Lino, Aeroforce, Greenpointcrusader ,Swipe have not run well enough to be in anyway. And the also eligible so had every shot at qualifying and did not. The only travesty would have been Mo Tom but he made it even after 2 desasterous trips.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Oh, poor Bodemeister... oh, please. Now, as it stands a brilliant colt cannot have a minor setback, keeping him out of the April Big Point races and still make the starting gate. Ferdinand wouldn't have made the cut, for sure. Art Sherman said they didn't really want to run California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, but they were afraid of not having enough "points" - the system takes the decision making away from the horsemen. I do not really care if a frontrunner gets and easy pace so that he can win wire to wire. That is NOT what the game should be about - coddling a certain type of running style. Big Brown managed despite the sprinter, Bob Black Jack setting a nice pace for 7/8ths.
And if Exaggerator wins, take your "premium on two-turn races" and put it where the sun doesn't shine: he won at Delta Downs and ran a game second in the San Vicente.
TomPHickey More than 1 year ago
Aren't you leaving out his Sa Derby and San Felipe performances which aren't exactly disasters.
AskRubenHow2Bet More than 1 year ago
Songandaprayer is Pres. of Derby-sprinters club, including Spanish Chestnut, Join In The Dance, Triniberg, etc.
Lance More than 1 year ago
The problem with the point system is that so many trainers want to lightly train their horses that one poor effort means they don't get in.  In the old days, a colt that ran poorly in a 170 point race would be wheeled right back in another one.  Now, they're likely out of the Derby.  I suspect sometime soon a trainer will plan on more preps and get horses into the race above the super cautious trainers, which could send the pendulum swinging back again.

Consider, for example, if Nyquist had thrown in a dull effort in the Florida Derby, he'd be out of the race.  His connects assumed the 30 points he got last year were enough, so were willing to risk running in just one points race this year.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
It is a stupid system
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Lance... good point.  I never thought about it THAT way until you provided a real example that I could really understand (regarding Nyquist running 4th in the FL Derby).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Trinniberg had no effect on Bodemeister.
Bodemeister set that pace all by himself and still hung on for 2nd.
the best Trinniberg could do was get with 1 length of Bodemeisters right hind. 
Bodemeister essentially was always 2 lengths ahead of Trinniberg.
Watch the race and then get back.

Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
But Bob got his way and whined and they changed the whole game, didn't they?
Scott More than 1 year ago
Three favorites have won in a row.  I've been watching since 1979 and I can't remember that ever happening.  We'll see if the trend continues this year...you would think the fields would be more competitive under the new system, but it's yet to prove out.  
TRacingLifeMore More than 1 year ago
I would rather have the pure sprinters in the race. Without them, it's more difficult for a longshot clunk-up closer to finish underneath.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I think pace scenario still works for picking long shot closers...I had Commanding Curve in my second tier, but definitely didn't consider him a win candidate.  This year is tougher because I think the pace will be moderate.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
It OBVIOUSLY gives the advantage to frontrunner type horses.
Subtlewave More than 1 year ago
Desired impact might be wrong phrase, Trojan Nation clunks up in slow race that falls apart in slop while Mo Tom and Cherry wine are at the mercy of scratches
Kendall Daniels More than 1 year ago

Both Mo Tom and Cherry Wine had multiple chances to get the points sufficient to  guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby. They couldn’t capitalize and now they are on the outside looking in. Trojan Nations’ connections took 1shot at the points and nearly won the Wood Memorial. There were stakes winners and stakes placed horses that Trojan Nation ran down to get second place. He deserves to be in the Kentucky Derby; he won his way there. Romans or Amoss could have got to New York too and tried the same thing yet they opted not to.They took a chance and it may not work out for them. Trojan Nation’s connections took a chance and it worked out. Those are the breaks.

Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
really? They have to ship to get points? Great - just put MORE pressure on the developing three year old horses and make the trainers have to guess which prep will come up easier for them ... what a crock.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
While I like Trojan Nation and wish Paddy Gallagher the best with a homebred (nice story!), it is obvious that choosing the weakest prep race is now part of a trainer's job in order to not have a horse with incredible talent like the ones you mentioned, and be sitting on the sideline because they guessed wrong.
Kinsey Small More than 1 year ago
Mo Tom is already in, Cupid is not running. 
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Mo Tom is not at the mercy of anybody he is in.