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Kentucky Derby Point System - A Recap

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.


The Opinions:

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 Results:

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.


The Strategy:

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.


The Injuries:

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.


Future Changes:

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 Unknown:

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?


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby Point System - A Recap...

Has it's merits, Tom >> Can we all agree that we don't want a Derby commission?
Istill prefer graded stakes an allowing trainers to decide the "best" for their horses. TPD
Me too.
LMAO, I meant *accomplish. Stupid auto-correct on my phone. It's very difficult typing on an Iphone with 2in. wide thumbs. I thought I did pretty good typing on it, haha.
Rafi >> O’Brien is simultaneously *arguably the most coveted trainer in the world* and the dolt who entered * Daddy Long Legs, who was eased in the 2012 running, was strictly and obviously a turf colt and had no means running in that race*?
If you can win the $2,ooo,ooo UAE Derby, potentially beating SA 4yos, you deserve an invitaiion. Daddy Long Legs, who was eased in the 2012 running, was strictly and obviously a turf colt and had no means running in that race*?
Exactly, Jmac. After all, aren't we welcome (however, we never send our horses) to send trainees to the Arc de Triumph without an English, French or Irish prep? I think all of Europe, and O'brien especially who for sure will take advantage, should be welcome to give the Kentucky Derby a go with their possibly talented 3yo. Sure, retrospectively, seeing an international colt win the Kentucky Derby is upsetting due to Kentucky Derby being America's race, but I still think it is civil and appropriate to have a prep race in Dubai. Not only does it benefit international trainers, but it partially benefits America's racing for points I mentioned in my other post.
Also, a very speical horse could come from there and win.
A prep race over here might have helped Master of Hounds or Lines of Battle, I agree. However, why would Aidan O'brien (arguably the most coveted trainer in the world, I might add) send them over for a prep here without knowing they will even make the Kentucky Derby? The trip to Emirates (UAE, Dubai) is a much easier traveler and a safer choice. By sending his possible dirt and tapeta contenders to Dubai, he can bring them with his other contigent of older horses, therefore making it an efficent and convinent travel. Regardless, what prep race would fit Aidan O'brien's needs for the colts? Probably the Bluegrass Stakes and that is not even a significant prep nowadays for the Kentucky Derby.
Jmac, a prep in America would not change the fact that Daddy Long Legs was a turf-oriented colt. Thanks for reminding me of Master of Hounds, another example that the UAE Derby can produce a solid contender. Quite honestly, I can see your point, however I do think the UAE Derby is a nice little prep to be in our possession for the multiple reasons I considered on my above post.
I honestly think if Aiden O'Brien would have raced Master of Hounds, Daddy Long Legs, and Lines of Battle over here once or twice they would of done better in those races.
Tmallios, it's a worthy point. Injuries could play a role in how many points are needed. However, excuse me, but there weren't many injuries in 2013. Sure, Flashback by Tapit was a notable injury. Hear the Ghost (who I liked a lot) was a notable injury. Violence, though early in the prep season, was a notable injury. Finally, I've Struck a Nerve was a notable injury. This is right off of Matt's article. There weren't many significant injuries. Sure, Flashback was a flashy grey from Tapit, but did you honestly expect he would make noise in the Derby? All front runners, save Oxbow, were hammered on the front end by Palace Malice's out-of-nowhere speed crazy dilemma. On top of that, Flashback was a 8.5-9f colt, who had a very poor final 1f in the Santa Anita Derby. I've Struck a Nerve, the surprise in the Risen Star, I doubt would have showed up. Not many longshots lke him continue to make noise on the trail (Hero of Order?). The injury Violence was so early on the trail, before March even came, so we have no idea what he would have done. Hear the Ghost was significant, in my opinion, as he had a late kick which would ave proved useful in the 1 1/4 Derby. All in all, the injury excuse was minimal (only four were out) and none of them, save one, was even a solid contender. I could live with needing 20 or 25 points to make the dance, but 10?? I think an easy solution to this issue is to distribute the points a tad more evenly, of course while emphasizing the 3yo preps accordingly. @Jmac, while the UAE Derby has never been a signficant prep, Lines of Battle ran a crediible race. Sure, most of the winners will not be worthwhile in Louisville, but perhaps if Aidan O'brien could bring over some dirt-oriented pedigrees over to the States, his many solid trainees, such as Lines of Battles, could contend. Daddy Long Legs, who was eased in the 2012 running, was strictly and obviously a turf colt and had no means running in that race. On top of that, having a Dubai prep properly encourages trainers and owners to ship their 3yo (and possibly an elder to tag along, hint hint) to Dubai so America has a contigent to try to win the UAE Derby, which may I add has the same purse as our beloved Kentucky Derby. I concur with your feelings of the Royal Lodge; that is a strict turf race for 2yo in Europe which quite frankly has no affect on the Kentucky Derby running and trail. The Grey Stakes could be cut, but it gives Canada's trainer a prep race in their homeland, free of travel. Traveling of these equine athletes is not easy when crossing borders of Canada and America, so I think it is a useful prep for Canada therefore should not be removed.
The UAE Derby, Royal Loodge and Grey should be dropped.
rafi, a major reason that the bottom horses got in with so little points is injuries.yes, everyone expects that there will always be defectors.nobody for sure can calculate how many.example,baffert had 5 he was pointing to race.none ran. pletcher had many that also got hurt. i think the system is fair,i would give it another shot.the only change i would make is the cutoff time. i think it is ridiculous to offer points to the lexington and derby trial horses.they are 2 weeks and 1 week from the race. except for the exception of charismatic, it is really a major stretch to expect a horse to be competitive at 1 1/4 miles off such little rest for recovery.
@floridaf, good point and Eight Belle's heroic effort slipped from my thoughts. Perhaps, every 2 points of filly could be equal to 1 point for the Derby? That could make sense, but I'm in support that in order to be entered in Louisville, the filly should attempt to face males beforehand, to gather points. I like the rule, the Derby qualifier would correspond to the filly's points. So, if the filly doesn't gather enough qualifying points, those points could still be used for the Road to the Oaks.
@CauseforConcern, I just find it a bit below expectations that Fear the Kitten with six meaningful points almost made the big dance and Giant Finish did with ten. Perhaps do you happen to recall when the points system was first released? Churchill Downs Inc. suggested forty (40) points would be the approximate cut-off, however the cutoff ended up being ten (10). I do feel the urge to emphasize 3yo form, as Matt mentioned in his write-up, but I think the earlier preps (in Janurary and February) could be worth more. I feel that the final, major preps are worth too much points. I'd agree with Churchill Downs Inc, the winner of whichever major 9f should be guarenteed a spot, but when the evidented cut-off (based on 2013's edition) is ten (10) points, why must the final prep be worth one hundred (100) points? I think the qualifying points could be better distributed throughout the prep season, like Matt Scott noted. I find it sickening that ten (10) points, which is only a win in a 2yo prep such as the Champagne, can possibly gather a spot in the field. I'm a huge fan that all qualifying preps are 8f or longer and I find pleasure in the fact they decided to emphasize 3yo form. I just think the preps from January and beyond should simply be better distributed. I'd have to review the points layout again, but I believe they could find a way to emphasize the January-March preps and cut some points off the major April, 9f preps. JMO.
I think filly points should count towards the Derby. To counter what rafirox said, yes all 3 fillies that won the KY Derby faced males beforehand, but the valiant Eight Belles ran a bang up 2nd in the Big Dance in her first start against males.
A few tweaks is okay with me.
@rafirox: I like your point about the minimal 20 pts, at first. But, with a lot of 3YO's getting nicked up on the way to the dance, their youth and lack of experience could cause some of these nicks, or setbacks. So, as a closing thought, I guess I wouldn't limit the points because of their possible frailty. Also, to add to that point, only one BC Juvenile winner(usually the early Derby favorite) has backed up that win with a Derby victory(Street Sense). That would validate the early conditioning point, and their frailty.
I believe that the fillies are not being compromised. If their connection want to pursue the Derby Trail, all they have to do is enter into a Derby prep race. The only angle that's being omitted is to run in filly-only Oaks preps, and, then, when the Derby is the next race, opt to run in the Derby w/o any Derby preps(and get a 5 lb allowance). I also like the point system, and I concur that the Illinois Derby should be included. The only drawback to the Illinois Derby, is that no horse from that $750K race has made any noise thereafter. I think if Departing would've made some noise, that would lay credence more strongly to that race being included. Lastly, the one puzzler was the lack of Bob Baffert competing on the Triple Crown trail. He had Code West and Govenor Charlie, which were two that could've entered the gates in Louisville or the Belmont. I know this is only one year removed from his heart attack, but was this an issue to guard against his health of taking on the TC demands, or, a statement of personal disdain for the point system? I only say that, because normally you can count on Baffert being at the Derby.
  • skipaway2000 · Amen C4C, and ALL of the fillies who won the Derby, EVERY ONE OF THEM, faced males in graded stakes prior to the Derby (and hit the board!). · 829 days ago

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