Now that the sun has set on the 2013 Triple Crown season, I
find myself reflecting on the first complete year of the Kentucky Derby Point System. When first announced, opinions for the system were as widespread as the results,
but looking back I do not think any of us can say the system yielded a bad race.
When the points system was first announced, everyone had a
viewpoint that was either for or against. Some denounced the system because it
put virtually no emphasis on the 2-year-old season and left out the Illinois
Derby, which has served as a critical Derby prep race in the past. I for one,
was a huge supporter of the points system because it did put emphasis on 3 year
old form, and if there was going to be a “win and you’re in” scenario, it might
as well be with horses peaking at the right time in their careers.
The Wynn Casino in Las Vegas pegged the over-under of the
points required to enter the derby at 29.5 throughout most of the winter and
early spring of this year. As it turns out Giant Finish slipped in the 20th
spot with only a point tally of 10. Fear the Kitten was a mere 24 hours away
from entering the gates with 6 points had Black Onyx’s team discovered his
untimely injury just a little bit sooner.
Using points to decide the field certainly changed the
strategies of many of the trainers and connections leading up to the race. A
perfect example is Shanghai Bobby, who was definitely on the Derby Trail until
his disappointing 5th place finish in the Florida Derby. The ironic
thing is that the 24 points he had going into the race would ultimately have
gotten him into the Kentucky Derby had he skipped the Florida Derby. Although it was never the plan for the horse to skip the race, the 5th
place finish and uncertainty of 24 points being enough, the connections
announced that the Juvenile Champion would not be pointed to Churchill and would instead focus
on the second half of his 3-year-old season. Adversely, look at a horse like Palace Malice, who unexpectedly wheeled back 2 weeks after the Louisiana Derby to get the necessary points in the Blue Grass Stakes.
The Field Sizes:
I hope I am not in the minority in that I am ecstatic that
just about every single major Derby Prep had a double digit field
size. This is great for the tracks because larger fields typically lead to
larger betting handles and spectator turnout. This is great for the horses because it
gives them a taste for the chaos that is the 20 horse cavalry charge down the
Churchill straight at the start of the Derby. It is great for the trainers,
because they learn more about the weaknesses of their horses and what they
still need to do to prepare their mount for the rigors of the Kentucky Derby.
There really is no loser here, expect for the horse that got stuck on the rail,
had to swing wide, or got held up in traffic. But guess what…that’s racing.
Fortunately there were minimal injuries leading up to this
year’s big race, and even fewer that were career ending (or worse). Is this a
coincidence? Perhaps. But I like to believe this has more to do with staying
distance horses being trained for the race, rather than successful, speedy 2
year olds being extended beyond their means. There were still a few
disappointing drop-outs: the afore mentioned Black Onyx, Hear the Ghost, I’ve Struck a Nerve, and Flashback to name a few. However, for the most part all the
horses that ran in the Derby will be seen later this summer and fall and are still
expected to compete at high levels of competition. This is perhaps, the best
indicator that the points system did something right.
Although it worked very well this year, the system isn’t
perfect. The Illinois Derby needs to be a point qualifying prep race. I would like to see larger point values assigned to early 3-year-old
races. Currently, early prep races are only worth 10 points, which are equal to
all 2-year-old races. I say, bump the early 3-year-old preps up to 20 points to
put even larger emphasis on 3 year-old-form. I would like to see a more even point spread of the
finishers. Currently points are distributed to the top 4 finishers, with a very
heavy skew toward the winner. I would like to see an increase of points for the
2nd and 3rd place finishers, given the increased
difficulty of the races when the field size is 10-14.
Preparing for Next Year:
As the fresh crop of juveniles start to emerge this summer,
we can only think which ones will be a household name next May. The point system
essentially makes all early juvenile races nothing more than foundation builders
for the hopefully long career that will be ahead of the next Kentucky Derby winner.
I expect to see trainers more calculating of the routes for their horses, and
many that accumulate any points at all will be prepared as if they will enter
the starting gate the first Saturday in May.
The Kentucky Derby will always remain the crown jewel for
horsemen across the country. However, now that quarter horse speed as a 2 year
old can no longer clinch a spot the ultimate experience of
American racing, there will be backlash. And I expect this backlash to be
hardest felt in the breeding sheds. Horses known to pass stamina to their
progeny will likely start to see increases in stud fees. Hopefully we may start
to see a shift of desire from precocious youngsters to battle hardened stayers
that can follow the footsteps of their Triple-Crown winning ancestors.
Now that Triple-Crown mania has subsided, what do you think
about the points system?