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Road to the Derby: Royal Lodge Stakes

Daddy Longs Legs - '11 UAE DerbyThis 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.
 
 
Before 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.
 
 
It 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.
 
 
For 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.
 
 
From 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.
 
 
Because 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 scores 40.
 
 
Based 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?)
 
 
Based 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.
 
 
If 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.
 
 
So, 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.
 
 
One 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.  

 

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Older Comments about Road to the Derby: Royal Lodge Stakes...

The Royal Lodge may not yield any Ky Derby horses but it may have a say in the BC Juv Turf. Second-place finisher Artigiano and 5th place finiher Fantastic Moon will try the BC Juv Turf. Interesting that jockey K.Fallon who rode the Royal lodge winner Steeler, climbs aboard Fantastic Moon, who will be flying late.
CauseForConcern: Oh btw, if you're ever in attendance at another KYD let me know, it would be a pleasure to meet you .
I am sure that one day a European will win the Derby, but, as far as handicapping, I doubt if I will be able to recognize when that day comes. Congrats, Bryan. Interesting article. Thought I'd mention that I had had the pleasure of meeting your father on one occasion. I gave him the winner of the '05 Derby, Giacomo. That was a proud day for me, to pick a 50-1 longshot, and see them come in.
  • kentuckyderbypost · I agree it will happen eventually but guessing which year will be the year is going to be tough. Thanks! Wow, how bout that? Well i'm glad you stuck with your gut, that had to be a great ticket to cash! · 671 days ago
I could list tons of whudda couddas and they don't mean a thing
If Musket Man gets to that hole before MTB, he could have won rather than finishing 3rd in the Derby, you dolt.
If you stay around horse racing long enough, you will see that it is run, mostly, by the old blue bloods desparangingly referred to as the "Dinnies." They do not change trandition and it has been only since War Emblem that the Illinois Derby has had any relevance to the big dance.
The Royal Lodge is part of the Derby point system, but the Illinois Derby is not??? Yeah, that makes sense.

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