08/31/2017 10:34AM

European series among changes to Derby points system

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A series of races designed to attract a horse from Europe in addition to the series of races similarly designed for a Japanese runner, which debuted last year, are among the highlights of the preps for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, which were announced on Thursday by Churchill Downs.

The new European Road to the Kentucky Derby is a seven-race series – four on turf, three on synthetic – that includes races in Ireland, Great Britain, and France, and carves out a spot in the Derby for a horse campaigned in Europe. It begins in September and lasts until March. It includes such prestigious races as the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Oct. 28.

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That series mimics the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, inaugurated for the 2017 Derby, which carves out a potential spot for a horse based in Japan. The 2018 Japan series increases to three races from last year’s two, and runs from November until February. All those races are on dirt.

In both cases, only the top four point-earners in those respective series will have a chance at being in the starting gate for the 2018 Kentucky Derby on May 5. If the top point-earner declines, the invitation will go to the runner-up, and if that horse’s connections decline, the horse third on the list would be invited.

If the top four all pass – which is what happened with the Japanese runners for the 2017 Derby -- that spot is not filled, and essentially reverts to the horses campaigned in the 36-race main Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which includes 35 races in the United States, plus the United Arab Emirates Derby.

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There are a maximum of 20 horses that are allowed to start in the Derby. If runners from both Japan and Europe participate, that would leave 18 spots, in addition to up to four also-eligibles that are allowed at entry time.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series begins Sept. 16 with the Iroquois at Churchill Downs and runs through the Lexington at Keeneland on April 14. The Lexington has had its points value increased, and will offer 20 points to the winner.

The Spiral at Turfway on March 17 has had its points reduced, with the winner receiving 20 as opposed to the 50 that were on offer in prior years.

New this year to the main series is the Springboard Mile at Remington on Dec. 17.

This will be the sixth year that the Kentucky Derby field will be determined by points, as opposed to earnings in graded stakes, which had been the policy for three decades. The early preps are worth 10 points to the winner – with 4 for second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth – and the final round of major preps are worth 10 times that – 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth.

Also announced on Thursday was the 31-race Road to the Kentucky Oaks Series, which begins with the Pocahontas at Churchill on Sept. 16. New to the series this year is the Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10. The Bourbonette at Turfway on March 17, much like the Spiral on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, has had its points value reduced to a race worth 20 to the winner as opposed to 50 in prior years. The Kentucky Oaks will be run on May 4.