This weekend there will be two races that officially kick start the Road to the Derby. What this also means is that the new points system that will determine which 20 horses will be given the chance to impress the Derby Gods on May 4th, 2013 will also begin.
Before we tackle what’s at stake and which juveniles we'll see this weekend we have to dissect the query of the systems’ lone turf race, the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.
we go any further let’s put this interesting fact on the table. The Royal Lodge
Stakes is the only race on both the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and the Road
to the Derby Series that does not affect qualification for both the BC Juvenile
and the Kentucky Derby. Instead, the Royal Lodge Stakes is a “Win
and You’re In” race for the BC Juvenile Turf. I mention that because that is
the first of many questions.
doesn’t take very long to find out what impact this isolated European race has
had on the Kentucky Derby. Beside the fact that no European trained horse has
ever won the Kentucky Derby, my research concluded that until last year no
winner of the Royal Lodge had ever entered the run for the roses.
those that don’t recall, this spring we saw Daddy Long Legs receive the
unfortunate draw that no horse from any country would ever want – PP 1 in the
Kentucky Derby. The reason this horse is so interesting is because he is my
only real data as to why the Royal Lodge Stakes is included in the new 36 race
qualification series. Owned by Michael Tabor and Trained by Aidan O’Brien,
Daddy Long Legs began his racing career across the pond where he raced twice
before winning the Royal Lodge.
there it was an unexpected decision as his connections bypassed the BC Juvenile
Turf and opted instead for the BC Juvenile on the dirt at Churchill Downs. After
a disappointing 12th place finish in the 13 horse field Daddy Long
Legs was sent back across the pond for the UAE Derby where he won in impressive
fashion. By then it would seem evident that synthetics and turf is where he
belonged but in another surprising decision his connections brought him back to
Churchill Downs for the 138th Kentucky Derby. In the end, the 1 hole
mixed with dirt didn’t fare too well and Daddy Long Legs finished last in the
full field of 20.
we are now at the very beginning of the updated system the winner of this
weekend’s Royal Lodge will only receive 10 points, well below the estimated 40
to 50 points needed to qualify. A win will lead to a very interesting crossroads
as the connections will be faced with the decision of pulling their horse out
of Europe until after the Kentucky Derby. The reason that is very possible is
because the only other opportunity to score major points outside of North
America would be the UAE Derby where a win scores 100 points and 2nd
on this math Daddy Long Legs would have notched 110 points and would definitely
have qualified for the derby. But this is where I will need help in
understanding Churchill Downs’ decision. If the overall objective is to create
more worldwide attention and attraction to the Kentucky Derby, much like the
Breeders’ Cup, then why is their only one single European race included in the
series? Secondly, if it will take some time for a European turf horse to
convert to dirt shouldn’t they be given a chance to earn more points in another
turf race? (Maybe the BC Juvenile Turf?)
on these two lingering questions I can sum things up by asking: What is so
attractive about the Royal Lodge? I realize the idea of more European horses
but I can’t understand why the Royal Lodge was chosen on its own.
one day more Europeans make a run for the roses it will be great for the sport
but North American dirt horses will still hold the clear advantage year after
year. Likewise the number of trainers that elect to ship their horse over to
North America if they don’t want to rely on just the Royal Lodge and UAE Derby
will remain few and far between.
I guess the final question that many people have is: Will this change down the
road? In my opinion, just like the Illinois Derby being left out and the BC
Juvenile not being awarded enough points, this opening race to the series will
also change. How it will be altered is something that I can’t yet predict but I
am certain that one of these two will be the answer. One, it is eliminated. Two,
more turf or European races are added.
good thing I will say is that even though the decision needs more explaining I can
still agree with the initiative. The reason is that European horses do add more
buzz to big racing days in North America. Again, they’ll always be behind the
eight ball because the Kentucky Derby is a dirt racecourse classic designed for
American horses but at least the Europeans are being invited to give it a shot.
Some might feel that the inclusion of a European will knock an American long
shot out of the starting gate. But head to head, the European will probably have a more
polished resume with more key wins thus being more deserving of the spot.
Besides Daddy Long Legs a few other memorable Europeans that tried to end the Euro drought were Arazi ’92, Bold Arrangement ’86 (2nd place - best European finish), Johannesburg ’02 (’01 BC Juvenile Winner) and Master of Hounds ’11. All of these horses made a valiant effort but will the 2012 Royal Lodge winner be the next European Derby hopeful? The question begins getting answered on Saturday.