Updated on 06/17/2012 4:11PM

Kentucky Derby entry to be determined by new points system

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Barbara D. Livingston
I'll Have Another wins the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Going into the race, he was 10th on the 2012 graded earnings list with $601,000.

Churchill Downs has abandoned the system that awarded the 20 starting berths in the Kentucky Derby to horses with the most graded-stakes earnings in favor of a system that will award points to the top four finishers in 36 stakes leading up to the May race, the company said on Thursday.

The new system, which will be put in place for the 2013 Derby, will put the most weight on the results of the high-profile 3-year-old stakes races that are run in the six weeks prior to the Derby while minimizing the relevance of rich 2-year-olds races such as the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot. It will also dramatically shrink the number of races in which a horse can improve its standing in the competition to earn one of the 20 berths. Under the old system, which had been in place since 1986, horses could amass graded-stakes earnings in 185 different races.

Also, none of the races under the new system are run at under one mile, and only one of the 36 races in the new eligibility system is run on the turf. Churchill president Kevin Flanery said on Thursday that those restrictions will ensure that horses that qualify for the 1 1/4-mile Derby will have demonstrated that they can compete in race conditions similar to the Derby.

[JUMP TO: New Road to the Derby schedule and point system]

“It seems kind of common sense,” Flanery said. “We’ve seen horses that have never run a mile qualify for the Kentucky Derby. We saw it this year,” a reference to the longshot speedball Trinniberg.

Under the new system, seven races traditionally held in the six weeks prior to the Derby would award the most points to potential starters. The races include the six most high-profile Derby preps – the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita, the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland – along with the UAE Derby in Dubai. The top four finishers in those seven races will earn points on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

Eight races held in the months prior to those seven stakes races will earn points on a 50-20-10-5 scale. Those races, which have traditionally been viewed as preps for the final Derby preps, include the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, the Gotham at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the San Felipe at Santa Anita, the Rebel at Oaklawn, the Spiral at Turfway, and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park.

Also, two races run in the weeks prior to the Derby will allow the top four finishers to earn points on a 20-8-4-2 scale. Those races are the Lexington at Keeneland and the Derby Trial at Churchill.

In addition to those 17 races – which Churchill is calling the Kentucky Derby Championship Series – 19 races held between September and February will earn the top four finishers points on a 10-4-2-1 scale. Those races include some rich 2-year-old stakes, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Delta Jackpot, and the Champagne Stakes. In the past, winners of the BC Juvenile and Delta Jackpot have had a significant leg up in qualifying for the Derby, even though the races are run seven to eight months prior to the race.

Conspicuously absent from the list of qualifying races is the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. A Grade 3 worth at least $500,000 every year except one (2011) since 1991, the Illinois Derby has failed to produce a noteworthy Triple Crown horse the last couple seasons, but has done so several times in the last decade. Significant Illinois Derby winners include War Emblem, who won the Derby and Preakness in 2002; Ten Most Wanted, second in the 2003 Belmont and winner of the Travers; Sweetnorthernsaint, the 2006 Derby favorite who was second in the Preakness; and Musket Man, third in the Derby and Preakness in 2009.

“I just found out this morning,” said Hawthorne president Tim Carey. “It’s mind-blowing to me that we could be left out of the mix. Churchill Downs, I guess they control racing in the United States these days. We’re still going to have the race. We’re not going anywhere.”

The changes also reduce the stature of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a Derby qualifying race. Jim Gluckson, a spokesman for Breeders’ Cup, said: “We have seen the new Derby qualifying points system today and are reviewing it. If we have some suggestions and comments on it, we’ll forward those to Churchill Downs.”

[MORE: Trainers skeptical of Kentucky Derby eligibility changes | Ranking the 2012 field]

Darren Rogers, Churchill’s senior director of communications, said that Churchill staff have estimated that a horse with 40 points under the new system “would in all likelihood” qualify for a spot in the Derby field. According to “scores of scenarios” that Churchill officials ran, the top points earners will likely go into the Derby with 120 to 150 points, Rogers said, while the lowest points earners could qualify with anywhere from 20 to 30 points.

In the event that two or more horses have the same number of points, the ranking of the horses will be determined by the amount of earnings in non-restricted stakes races.

In abandoning the graded-stakes earnings system, Flanery said that Churchill would be better able to “control” the paths that lead to a Kentucky Derby berth. He said the graded-stakes earnings system has given tracks incentives to create races that were not ideal in determining which horses should be eligible to run in the Derby.

“We [Churchill] should be making sure we have the proper path to the Derby,” Flanery said. “It’s all about making sure that on the first Saturday of May we have the best horses, the best competition, the best story, the best event possible.”

Flanery also said that the new system would be simpler for both horsemen and racing fans to follow and comprehend, especially by putting the most weight on the races that are run in the six weeks prior to the Derby.

A similar system of 35 races will also be put in place to determine the 14 starters for next year’s Kentucky Oaks. Under that system, six races traditionally run in the months leading up to the Oaks will earn points on the 100-40-20-10 scale.

Flanery said that the systems were devised over the past 11 months, and that Churchill officials would consider tweaking the list of races that would earn points over the years. He said he could “easily envision” that the series would be expanded to 40 races.

“We’re not afraid of change,” Flanery said. “We’re not afraid of being flexible. We want to make sure the Kentucky Derby is a viable, living, breathing event for years to come.”

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh

Road To The Kentucky Derby

Race
Distance
Track
Location
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
Royal Lodge 1M (T)
Newmarket
England 10 4 2 1
Norfolk 1 1/16M
Santa Anita
California 10 4 2 1
Breeders' Futurity 1 1/16M (S)
Keeneland
Kentucky 10 4 2 1
Champagne 1M
Belmont
New York 10 4 2 1
Grey 1 1/16M (S)
Woodbine
Ontario 10 4 2 1
BC Juvenile 1 1/16M
Santa Anita
California 10 4 2 1
Delta Downs Jackpot 1 1/16M
Delta Downs
Louisiana 10 4 2 1
Remsen 1 1/8M
Aqueduct
New York 10 4 2 1
Kentucky Jockey Club 1 1/16M
Churchill Downs
Kentucky 10 4 2 1
CashCall Futurity 1 1/16M (S)
Hollywood Park
California 10 4 2 1
Sham 1M
Santa Anita
California 10 4 2 1
Smarty Jones 1M
Oaklawn Park
Arkansas 10 4 2 1
Lecomte 1M 70 yds
Fair Grounds
Louisiana 10 4 2 1
Holy Bull 1M
Gulfstream
Florida 10 4 2 1
Robert B. Lewis 1 1/16M
Santa Anita
California 10 4 2 1
Sam F. Davis 1 1/16M
Tampa Bay Downs
Florida 10 4 2 1
Withers 1 1/16M
Aqueduct
New York 10 4 2 1
El Camino Real Derby 1 1/8M (S)
Golden Gate
California 10 4 2 1
Southwest 1M
Oaklawn Park
Arkansas 10 4 2 1

 

Kentucky Derby Championship Series

Race
Distance
Track
Location
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
First Leg of Series  
 
         
Risen Star 1 1/16M
Fair Grounds
Louisiana 50 20 10 5
Fountain of Youth 1 1/16M
Gulfstream
Florida 50 20 10 5
Gotham 1 1/16M
Aqueduct
New York 50 20 10 5
Tampa Bay Derby 1 1/16M
Tampa Bay Downs
Florida 50 20 10 5
San Felipe 1 1/16M
Santa Anita
California 50 20 10 5
Rebel 1 1/16M
Oaklawn
Arkansas 50 20 10 5
Spiral 1 1/8M (S)
Turfway
Kentucky 50 20 10 5
Sunland Derby 1 1/8M
Sunland Park
New Mexico 50 20 10 5
Second Leg of Series  
 
         
Florida Derby 1 1/8M
Gulfstream Park
Florida 100 40 20 10
UAE Derby 1 3/16M (S)
Meydan
UAE 100 40 20 10
Louisiana Derby 1 1/8M
Fair Grounds
Louisiana 100 40 20 10
Wood Memorial 1 1/8M
Aqueduct
New York 100 40 20 10
Santa Anita Derby 1 1/8M
Santa Anita
California 100 40 20 10
Arkansas Derby 1 1/8M
Oaklawn Park
Arkansas 100 40 20 10
Blue Grass 1 1/8M (S)
Keeneland
Kentucky 100 40 20 10
"Wild Card"  
 
         
Lexington 1 1/16M (S)
Keeneland
Kentucky 20 8 4 2
The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial 1M
Churchill Downs
Kentucky 20 8 4 2