06/14/2012 3:40PM

Trainers skeptical of Kentucky Derby eligibility changes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Steve Asmussen believes changes to the way the Kentucky Derby field is determined were unnecessary.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The newly revised parameters that will guide eligibility into the Kentucky Derby were met with mixed reaction and some doses of skepticism Thursday by trainers who have been perennial major players on the Derby scene in recent years.

Steve Asmussen was adamant in his opinion that the new rules are overwrought and unnecessary. Graham Motion said he was particularly puzzled by the downgrading of the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, a race he used the last two years with Animal Kingdom (winner of the 2011 Derby) and Went the Day Well (fourth in 2012).

Also, Todd Pletcher questioned whether downgrading 2-year-old events would preclude a horse such as Uncle Mo, the 2-year-old champion of 2010 who got behind schedule early in his 3-year-old year, from making the field.

[MORE: New Road to the Derby schedule and point totals | Ranking the 2012 field]

On the flip side, Larry Jones said the changes probably will do more good than harm by devaluing 2-year-old races and sprints, while Bob Baffert said he is “mostly okay” with the changes, with some reservations.

Here is a limited sampling of those opinions:

◗ Steve Asmussen: “I guess the wrong person’s horse got excluded. I am absolutely opposed to these changes. [The old system] really seemed like it was working just fine. We’re in horse racing because the results are obvious, they’re self-evident. This isn’t some subjective sport like figure skating where you don’t know who the French judge is. The Derby is the only thing in racing that seems to be working, so why have they tinkered with it?”

◗ Bob Baffert: “What they really need to do is get rid of the one-hole,” he joked initially, referring to the brutal trip Lookin At Lucky endured from post 1 in the 2010 Derby.

“I see what they’re trying to accomplish, get the most up-to-date names, but some of the California races were snubbed a little bit, like the CashCall [Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park], which I think is a major prep. I’m just afraid that when they downgrade these races it’ll give the other tracks a reason to cut their purses on them, which I don’t think is fair to the owners. On the point system, if a race is given 100 points, then it should be a $1 million race.

“I don’t have a problem with a lot of the other things, like the sprints or the filly races [no longer being valued]. The Grade 1 races going long, that’s where the emphasis should be.”

◗ Larry Jones: “I haven’t gotten into the changes all that much, but it sounds like a good idea to me. You’re asking for a lot more recency from horses, and you’re making them do it at a route of ground. So I’d say it’s probably a good thing.”

◗ Graham Motion: “The Spiral [historically has been] a more significant race than the UAE Derby,” which carries double the point values. “Both of my horses belonged” in the Derby, referring to Animal Kingdom and Went the Day Well. “It would be a shame if that was the case.”

◗ Todd Pletcher: “There are certain races to me that should qualify you to get into the Kentucky Derby, and I think the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is one of those races. If you get behind schedule and can only run in one prep, you might not be able to get in. That seems a little off kilter.

“I guess my question is this: ‘Was the previous system really flawed where it left someone out?’ A couple of years ago [in 2006], I had Sunriver, who was 21st (on the earnings list). I didn’t feel like I had a gripe. He was third in the Florida Derby, he didn’t get in, we moved on.

“I see the potential for this to leave out a good horse. Maybe, I’ll be proven wrong, but the previous system didn’t leave out the winner.”

◗ Dale Romans: “I haven’t read them all yet, but I didn’t know we had a problem. I’ve never known there to be any kind of big controversy because of the graded-earnings rankings. Down through the years, I don’t think there were many good horses that didn’t get to run in the Derby because of the old system. Maybe Rock Hard Ten [in 2004], but those kinds of horses have been far and few between.”

◗ Nick Zito: “I think this will generate some enthusiasm from fans during the spring. The Derby just gets bigger every year.'

“I don’t really have any complaints. The way I see it, the road I’ve taken is you can get there if you’ve got the horse. Maybe they could tweak the rules a little, and they’ll probably do so down the road. But at the end of the day when you run well in the big races, you’re going to make it, right or wrong? I’ve got no complaints. I’m just looking for Secretariat.”

– additional reporting by David Grening

Bustedbox2 More than 1 year ago
If the new system would have left out Animal Kingdom, it is fatally flawed. Valuing the UAE Derby at twice the Spiral Stakes is patently absurd.
WishIUnderstood More than 1 year ago
It would be truly naive to think that the changes were made to improve the selection process. This is all about money and control, and it's akin to the morass which is college football's bowl system and the BCS. The ones who profit from the current system (well, actually, plunder it) are loathe to give up any of their power and control. It's the same thing here. You can be sure that the points system was not arrived at by accident or by unbiased analysis, and that those who are implementing this system have a profit motive. Simply put, they want to wrest control from anyone, such as foreign racing interests, that they cannot control. The irony is that these businessmen claim to be free-market capitalists. If they were, why then wouldn't they simply let the money talk? The colts who win the big money races anywhere in the world are, most likely, the most deserving.
Brian Herrity More than 1 year ago
Next step in getting these horses to run more often would be to let the horse with most points have 1st pick for Post Position and second most point runners gets second pick..etc.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Alll of you so call handicrappers need to quit crying about the new system,and setback and enjoy the new system which will foce all these big headded trainers and owners to race their horse instead feeding them hay ,and wishing to win the Derby and go straight to the rack shed.
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
From a horseplayer point of view this may lead to bigger Derby Prices as people forget the about the prep race quality and look at contenders by how many points they have.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
Here's a change that is needed. How about you draw the entry form first and do the post position shaker 2nd. That way you wouldn't be able to fix the post position draw like you did this year Churchill Downs. You trying to tell me the guy drawing the entry forms didn't know what order they were in? Yea right. Get real.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Here was a great chance to straighten it out heavily weight the races from N.Y, Kentucky, S.California, & Florida. He must be the advice giver for the Breeders Cup committee.
Chantal Smithless More than 1 year ago
The true problem of the Derby entrants is STILL being ignored which is the field of 20 horses. This race needs to be limited to ONE starting gate, 14 horses. PERIOD. This stampede of 20 horses, year after year is a tragedy just waiting to happen. Figure out how to do THIS fairly and then you've accomplished something.
Paul Garcia More than 1 year ago
Handicapping comes first, then racing. Racing would not exist without betting. A race lasts only two minutes, three minutes, less? For instance, if a boxing match was only one round, there would be no boxing fans. Bettors justify horse racing. The Kentucky Derby is our nation's reward to handicappers. It is an orgy of betting. Twenty horses? YES. There are so many betting combinations and choosing the right one provides a gargantuan payout. Will horses get hurt? Yes. Do boxers, football players, hockey players get hurt? Yes. They are all athletes. Thoroughbred horses are running for their lives! They are scared that the bettors will go away and their children, the new fllies and colts will be unwanted and that their breed will one day disappear. But, bettors will have none of that. We bettors will make sure that the thoroughbred survives. WE value horses, they mean something to us, they inspires us. The safest thing for thoroughbreds is to not run! But then again, if that happened, the thoroughbred breed would become mere polo ponies and show jumpers for the rich. The stampede of 20 horses is our reward for all of the money we bet that ultimately supports the breed. Please give us this one-a-year race fest. Dangerous yes, but that is what gambling is all about.
DeChef More than 1 year ago
Somehow I'm not getting a warm fuzzy feeling you care one iota about the horses. I love horse racing but a 20 horse field is an invitation to tragedy that could put a serious crimp in the betting game. The horses don't run in races because they love it or their breed demands it. Humans make horses run races. Human athletes make concious decisions to play dangerous sports. Horses are forced to do it. While betting keeps the racing business alive but it shouldnt be at the expense of its main participant.
wendistone More than 1 year ago
With all due respect....you are ridiculous and terribly uneducated with regard to the mindset and living conditions of a thoroughbred racehorse. It is unfortunate that people such as yourself are allowed to make comments about something you clearly know NOTHING about. Do you honestly think that a 120lb. human can MAKE a 1000-1500 lb. animal do anything it doesn't WANT to do?! And generally, if the horse does not want to train-true horsemen will find out WHY and correct the problem,if correctable, or otherwise retire the horse if it is going to put the horse's life in danger. These horses have been bred for centuries to race and in most cases the desire becomes instinct-some horses love their careers so much that they wilt and whither when forced into retirement. The vast majority of the horses thrive off the attention and security of knowing they will be fed in a clean, dry stall after their workouts or races. These horses have been bred into domesticity, where they require CARE, and are IMMACULATELY cared for; from the highest echelon all the way down to the bottom. They get the best feed, shoeing, veterinary services, their stalls are cleaned more than once per day, water buckets are filled and scrubbed constantly, they even get their temperatures taken at the very least several times per week. Comments such as yours are so terribly offensive to the people that dedicate their lives to the happiness and wellbeing of these horses. I would like to see you spend one day on the backside of any racetrack, farm, or otherwise; and then go to someone's backyard where the horses-do not race-but are terribly neglected. This is not to say that there are not bad apples in the industry; but they are the exception rather than the majority. I have been around horses of all sizes, shapes, breeds and disciplines all of my life and until I came to the racetrack, I had never seen daily horse care of this extent. While I do not condone some practices set forth by the inevitable 'bad apples' that EVERY sport-human or animal contain-I have always done my best to dissuade this type of conduct. I have loved,lived and breathed horses all of my life; does one really think that I would continue to support horse racing if it was so cruel and against a domesticated and thoroughly bred horse's health, instinct and nature? Of all the equestrian disciplines; I have witnessed far more educated, enthusiastic and compassionate horsemen on the racetrack than anywhere else. Please, forgive my soapbox, as I am well aware that this is a Derby Point System forum-I just come untrained when I read comments that discredit the horsemen that awake at 3am every morning, work through the afternoons and into the evenings, on birthdays and holidays 365 days a year-just to be sure the horses have above and beyond what they need to be healthy and happy.
Sean Ali More than 1 year ago
Spoken like a true gambler. I don't suppose you ever heard about a little race track called Meydan? Horse racing is still the Sport of Kings there, and you will not find any parimutuel ticket windows. There is no gambling, just racing.
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Most intelligent comment of the day. Thank you, Chantal.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Uncle Mo was a miler sprinter anyways....get over it....
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Step in the right direction...I would have started by giving half credit for 2 yr old races and races under a mile, but we'll see how it works out.