Road to the Kentucky Derby
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a points system by which horses qualify for a position in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby. It features around 35 stakes races for 2 and 3-year-old Thoroughbreds – the number and specific races have changed slightly over the years. The point system replaces the previous qualifying system that looked at earnings from graded stakes races worldwide.
The series is divided into two phases, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The prep season consists of early races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that typically are run between late September and late February. Points are awarded to the top 4 finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale, except for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which has been awarded points on a 20-8-4-2 scale since 2016. The championship season consists of two legs and a "wild card" round. The first leg includes minor prep races, usually Grade II, with a 50-20-10-5 scale. The second leg includes major prep races, usually Grade I, with a 100-40-20-10 scale. Originally, there was also one "wild card" race with a 10-4-2-1 scale. Starting in 2018, there are now two wild card races with points offered on a 20-8-4-2 basis.
There are 20 positions available in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Starting in 2017, one of those spots is reserved for the winner of the separate Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.}} If the winner of the Japan Road declines the offer, their position is offered to the next ranked Japanese horse. If none of the top four finishers accepts the offer, this position in the starting gate reverts to qualifiers on the regular Road to the Kentucky Derby. Starting in 2018, Churchill Downs developed a similar European Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The remaining 18 spots in the starting gate (or up 20 if the European and Japanese offers are declined) are offered to the top finishers on the main Road to the Kentucky Derby. If one of those horses does not enter the Derby, their position is given to the next ranked horses on the list. Up to 24 horses may enter the race, with the bottom four point-earners listed as "also eligible". If any of the top 20 is scratched after entries are taken but before betting begins, the next ranked horse on the also eligible list will be eligible to run.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker to get into the race will be earnings in non-restricted stakes races, whether or not they are graded. In the event of a tie, those horses will divide equally the points they would have received jointly had one beaten the other. If an owner wants a filly to run in the Derby, she will have to earn points in the same races as the colts and geldings – points earned of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks are not transferable to the Derby.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby point system was created in 2012 to establish a "clear, practical and understandable path" to the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, according to the official website of Churchill Downs. The previous system was based on earnings from graded stakes races, but a poll conducted by Churchill Downs showed 83% of respondents did not understand how horses became starters for the Kentucky Derby. The series consisted of 36 races in 2013 and has since changed slightly each year.
In addition to qualifying via the Road to the Kentucky Derby, various fees are required to start in the Derby: a nomination fee, an entry fee and a starter fee. For example, in 2013 horses born in 2010 were eligible and the nomination fee was $600 which was to be paid by January 26, 2013. If the January date was missed, a late nomination fee of $6,000 could be paid by March 23, 2013. In addition, owners with qualifying horses were required to pay $25,000 to enter the Derby by May 1, 2013, and an additional $25,000 to start. If a qualifying horse was not nominated in either January or March, it could be supplemented to the Derby for $200,000.
- Race changes: Added two races (Iroquois Stakes; Jerome Stakes) and removed four others (Royal Lodge Stakes; CashCall Futurity; Sam F. Davis Stakes; Derby Trial Stakes).
- Points system changes: Reduced the points for the wild card from 20–8–4–2 to 10–4–2–1.
The 2015 season consisted of 35 races, 19 races for the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and 16 races for the Kentucky Derby Championship Season.
- Race changes: Added one race (Los Alamitos Futurity).
The 2016 season consisted of 35 races, 19 races for the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and 16 races for the Kentucky Derby Championship Season.
- Points system changes: Increased the points for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile from 10–4–2–1 to 20–8–4–2.
The 2017 season consists of 35 races, 19 races for the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and 16 races for the Kentucky Derby Championship Season.
- Race changes: Added one race (Sam F. Davis Stakes) and removed another (Grey Stakes).
- Rules changes: Added a separate Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, which will consist of two races: the Cattleya Sho (points awarded: 40–16–8–4) for 2-year-olds in 2016 and the Hyacinth (points awarded: 50–20–10–5) to be run in early 2017. The winner of this series will be offered one of the 20 positions available in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. If the top finisher declines or is not able to participate in the Kentucky Derby, the 2nd-place finisher will be offered a spot in the Kentucky Derby. If the 2nd-place finisher declines or is unable to participate, then the 3rd-place finisher will be offered a spot in the Kentucky Derby. No invitation will be offered for the Derby beyond the top three points earners.
The 2018 season will consist of 36 races.
- Race changes: Added the Springboard Mile to the main series. Added a third race to the Japan series.
- Points system changes: Spiral Stakes moved to a "Wild Card" race, along with the Lexington Stakes. Points for these races will be awarded on 20-8-4-2 basis, which is a decrease for the Spiral and an increase for the Lexington
- Rules changes: European Road to the Kentucky Derby introduced on a similar basis to the Japan Road. Consists of seven races, four of them on the turf and three on a synthetic surface.
- Churchill Downs changes 2014 Kentucky Derby 'Road' map
- "European series among changes to Derby points system". Daily Racing Form. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
- "Churchill Downs, Japan Racing Association partner to create 'Japan Road to the Kentucky Road'" (PDF). kentuckyderby.com. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
- Churchill Downs Refines 'Road to the Kentucky Derby', Oaks with Point System
- Road to Kentucky Derby will be less complex in 2013
- The New Road To The Kentucky Derby
- 2013–14 ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY
- Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Standings March 16, 2013
- Kentucky Derby 2014 points standings April 19, 2014
- Road to the Kentucky Derby 2015
- Road to the Kentucky Derby 2016
- "Sam F. Davis Joins 'Road to Kentucky Derby'". bloodhorse.com. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- Japanese Runner Kentucky Derby Unlikely