The New Road to the Kentucky Derby
As one of the most unexpected developments in the history of the Kentucky Derby, the qualification system that had been in place since 1986 was replaced in 2012. Churchill Downs decided to abandon the Graded Stakes earnings qualification process in favor of a points system that debuted for the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Officially titled as the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” the new system has been widely discussed and debated but only time will decide if this major change will become a momentous decision that generates a more prestigious path to the first Saturday in May.
The new points system has been divided into 2 separate series that will feature a total of 34 Graded Stakes races. The first series of races known as the “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” is composed of 18 events. Beginning in the 2-yr-old season for potential Kentucky Derby hopefuls, the Prep season continues through the early stages of the 3-yr-old season. At this marker on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is when the points increase and the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” begins.
“Kentucky Derby Prep Season”
Run between late September and February, these 18 races will continue to determine if a horse is qualified to move into the starting gate in any of the Major Kentucky Derby Preps. In this series points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in each race on a scale of 10-4-2-1.
“Kentucky Derby Championship Series”
This series of 16 races has been divided into 3 separate phases – First Leg, Second Leg and Wild Card. The First Leg is made up of 8 Graded Stakes Races that are traditionally designed to be the final race before a Major Kentucky Derby Prep. In some rare cases a win in one of these races makes it the final stop before the Kentucky Derby if qualification is already in hand. Points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in each race of the First Leg on a scale of 50-20-10-5.
The Second Leg features 7 Graded Stakes races that commonly represent the final race before the Kentucky Derby. In the Old qualification format these races were considered “Win and You’re In” races because the purse money awarded to the winner was large enough to qualify. Staying true to this trend, a win in one of these Major Preps will also lead to an automatic Kentucky Derby entry as the Second Leg points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a scale of 100-40-20-10.
Finally, there is one Wild Card. This race represents the last-ditch effort for any horse to work its way off the Derby Bubble and into the Derby field. Because this race was also used in the Old system as an attempt to gain last-minute earnings, this Graded Stakes race will not lose its identity on the Kentucky Derby trail. The Wild Card points will be awarded to the Top 4 Finishers in each race on a scale of 10-4-8-2.
Following the Wild Card, the top 20 point earners will be awarded a spot in the Kentucky Derby. After the 2014 qualification system is compete and all points have been awarded you can expect the final spot to be given to a contender that has scored between 10 to 25 points. Anyone that totals 25 points or more is likely to earn a spot in the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
All tie breakers will be decided by earnings in non restricted stakes races, some of which may not be Graded Stakes.