02/20/2013 4:55PM

Kentucky Derby points quest begins in earnest

Barbara D. Livingston
Majestic Hussar enters the Fountain of Youth in search of his first Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

With the value of prep races to the May 4 Kentucky Derby rising exponentially this week, trainers are getting right to the points.

Both the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday are worth 50 points to the winner. That’s five times more than the 19 races run so far for which points could be earned under the Derby eligibility system put in place this year by Churchill Downs. A second-place finish is worth 20 points, and third is worth 10, which is what winners earned in those first 19 eligible prep races.

There are six more races this month worth 50 points for first, and then come seven races in which the points double, to 100 for the winner. In those seven races, merely finishing fourth is worth 10 points, meaning fourth in the Florida Derby, for instance, is equivalent to winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

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Considering that the current points leaders are Sham Stakes winner Goldencents and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby, both with 24, the importance of upcoming races cannot be overstated.

As a result, sizeable fields were entered for both the Risen Star and the Fountain of Youth, and that should be the norm for preps from this point. The Risen Star drew an overflow field of 15, compared to 11 entrants in 2012 and 10 in 2011. The Fountain of Youth drew 11, a significant spike from the seven who ran in 2012 and eight in 2011.

One significant reason for the uptick in entries is that horses can no longer get to the Derby by sticking to sprints, which was a possibility – hello, Trinniberg! – under the old, graded-earnings-based system. That was among the reasons trainer Eddie Kenneally said the Fountain of Youth made far more sense for Majestic Hussar than, say, next week’s Swale at Gulfstream, a seven-furlong sprint that offers zero Derby points.

“That was probably a part of it,” Kenneally said Wednesday of the desire to send Majestic Hussar two turns for the first time this weekend. “You definitely have to keep track of the points system if you want to run in the Derby. We’ve got to try to get him eligible. We also wanted to run him in a longer race because we wanted to find out what we have, now. It helps, certainly, if he can get at least a part of this.”

The funneling of horses into two-turn races also likely will change the complexion of these preps, since a horse like Majestic Hussar is likely to set the pace.

Todd Pletcher, who sends out Violence in the Fountain of Youth and Palace Malice in the Risen Star, said: “I think there’s a number of effects from the point system, and one of which I think we probably are seeing a little bit this weekend is where you see some horses that perhaps would’ve maybe run in another one-turn race like the Swale are going ahead and jumping out into the Fountain of Youth or the Risen Star. And so we’re possibly seeing a change in the pace scenarios in some of these races, where beforehand they might have rolled the dice and with the graded earnings been able to get into the Kentucky Derby without really having any two-turn experience.”

In years past, Violence and Palace Malice would have been at different ends of the spectrum in terms of Derby eligibility at this stage. In December, Violence won the CashCall Futurity, whose winner’s share of $375,000 would already have put him safely in the Derby field. Instead, he has 10 points, exactly 10 more than Palace Malice, who is making his stakes debut.

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

“Some of these horses, like Violence and Shanghai Bobby, who won significant races as 2-year-olds, would already be secured a position in the starting gate based on graded earnings,” Pletcher said. “In this case, while they’re still towards the top of the points leader board, they’re still far away from securing a position.”

That said, Pletcher said the new system has not impacted how he is managing his Derby prospects.

“I don’t know that their prep schedules have changed much,” he said. “What’s so critical is that they run well, and I think in their cases they’re only going to have two Triple Crown prep races, so obviously we need them to perform well in those races.”

Because the new system is backloaded in terms of points, late bloomers like Palace Malice and the unbeaten Verrazano – another Pletcher trainee who also has no points – are not as far in arrears as they would have been under the graded-earnings system. But Pletcher said that under either system, good performances in the last two Derby preps are paramount. Verrazano is scheduled to make his next start in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.

“In some ways, it’s not really different,” Pletcher said, “because if Verrazano or one of these horses that’s later developing – Verrazano or Palace Malice – were to come along and win the Risen Star and the Tampa Derby, or their follow-up races, they were still going to have plenty of graded earnings to get in, so I don’t know that part of it has really changed.”

chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hey Privman, Your two mouth shots at Trinniberg did not fall on deaf ears and smack of exclusivity. If it's me you want, address me. If you are arguing with a horse, good luck but at least one of your professors shoulda learned you that words can hurt folks. Is that what you're about?
Richard Zabel More than 1 year ago
derby points system sukks and why not print total points for every 3 year old that is nominated dumba sses
Jd Staton More than 1 year ago
i dont see much difference in the point system and the old system . they can win the rite race or run second or even third in the rite race or races and still get in. the biggest difference is 2yo races dont count for nearly as much
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
I agree. The BCJ purse almost assured the winner a place in the Derby in the old system even if the winner did not improve in his 3YO campaign.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
The number to get in will depend on how many winning horses in the first leg of the championship series come back to run and win in the second leg. In a world of under trained, under raced, fresh horse racing, I think it will be unlikely that most winners will run back as the 50 points will be enough get in. I suppose it's possible in theory that we could have all different horses finishing first in the first leg and first or second in the second leg. If that were to happen, there would be 22 horses with 40, 50, or 100 points for that alone. On the other side of the coin, if four winning horses come back to win a second leg, with more points going to a smaller group would have the contrarian effect of needing less points, and allowing a few to get in with less than 30. With trainers being so selective, I think the number will be right around 40, but with all that can happen before the race, a few might get in with less.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hoss, they are gonna fill that Gate and the Auxillary no matter what it takes...
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Of that there is no doubt. I tried not to chime in on this, but after reviewing it, well, I couldn't stop myself.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Put it out there man. You have a good take on the game.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Patrick De Vito More than 1 year ago
Stop the BS VIRUS!! LOSER, get a life!
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
You guys are going to be amazed to see that most of the big shots will be in with less than 30 points.
Thomas Wright More than 1 year ago
You're completely wrong, have you even looked at the point system? There are 8 races worth 50 to the winner and 20 points for 2nd place finish. In the second leg there are 7 races that are worth 100 for 1st, 50 for 2nd and 20 for 3rd.
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
Mr. Wright - You are so right. Only injury, fear or boycott should prevent 15 horses to be in the Derby with at least 50 points. For so many years horses ran in the Derby that had no business being there. I want to see only the best horses run in the Derby who have proven that they have a chance to win based on their form.
Martin More than 1 year ago
Violence,an oustanding Derby prospect but the colt's name certainly is a turn-off in view of the traumatizing events which have saddened all of us these past few months. Why not rename the colt?
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Really? Go away. We should rename you.
Oz Nelson More than 1 year ago
After reviewing the point system I can tell that all the ponies are going to need more then 31 pts.or better to hope for 18 th,19th or 20th slot. Most of the slots are going to the next 15 winners from 2/23 to 4/13. and maybe another 7 slot to the second place horses from 3/30 to 4/13. If there is no horse duplications that's 22 slots already,plus some of these horses with points in there saddle already may only need to come in 3rd in the last leg (3/30-4/13). or sneek in from a wild card race WHAT- THE NEXT 15 RACES HAVE A FULL FIELD OR CLOSE TO IT AND SOME HORSES WILL BE RUNNING TWICE DURING THIS TIME. YEPPIE YI KI YA little doggy or pony " YEPPIE YI KI YA"
Gunner More than 1 year ago
So now we have a series of important races from coast to coast with big fields that grow in importance with each passing week as we draw closer to May and America's Most Famous Race? Is that about it? What is so bad about that? (rhetorically speaking).
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Only nine trainers(?) represent the entire 'top twenty' at this point...
Gunner More than 1 year ago
Key is "at this point". All it will take is one wild w/e of upsets and the Top Twenty will be totally shaken up and changed. That will get people talking.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
That's what we need. I plain don't like justa coupla squirrels getting all the acorns.
Nathan More than 1 year ago
idiotic new system. good for longshot players.
Chris Thigpen More than 1 year ago
Explain further why a point system for horses getting in the Derby is good for long shot players, Thx.