At this point of the year, we are all familiar with the
Kentucky Derby trail, and what was the pre-requisite to get into the field of
20 on the first Saturday in May.
The starters were determined by accumulation of graded stakes
earnings. In other words, the more
money the horse earns in graded stakes races, the more likely it is that he/she
will be in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
The concept of this method is ideal. It gives priority to the horses that
perform the best, in the races with the toughest company. However, when the system was thought
out and initiated, I’m not sure if races like the Delta Downs Jackpot were
considered. This one race could
all but ensure the winner a ticket to Kentucky before their 2-year old season
is even completed. The idea was that races with higher purses would attract
higher quality competition, and be relatively scaled with race grade
level. This is true for the most
part, but with exceptions. Certain
races on the derby trail have become “win and you’re in” races that resemble
Breeder’s Cup preps that are slated for later in the year. And it is here where we have the
fundamental flaw of the graded stakes earnings being the sole criteria for
entrance into the Kentucky Derby. It
is only “in theory” that it works as intended.
So the powers that be decided to restructure their criteria
that selects the Derby contenders based on a point system. This system is weighted by proximity to
the derby and subjective scaling of race-importance. Additionally, only races longer than 1 mile will be
considered eligible for points.
Graded earnings are the tie breaker if 2 horses accumulate the same
number of points.
Evaluating this system, it is easy to see the advantages as
to why the race organizers would want to make this change. Looking at the 2012 field, horses like
Trinniberg would not have been eligible because none of his races were longer
than 7f. Also, horses that do not
compete at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, Keenland, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, or
Gulfstream Park, are at a significant disadvantage compared to horses trained
by marquee trainers that are based at some of these higher profile tracks.
For me, the Kentucky Derby is more than just watching 20
young horses go 10 furlongs and hoping to see my favorites come out on
top. It is far more than just a
good betting opportunity. It is
about pure competition, which puts the best athletes of their generation in an
“even” matchup of stamina, raw ability, tactics, and class to find out who is
best. Now, with 20 horses in a single
race, an “even” matchup is a debatable topic for an entirely different discussion. But, the question is how do we ensure
that the 20 horses in the starting gate are truly the best of their generation
and have earned their right to prove it?
Before this year’s Kentucky Derby, and similar to the
organizers at Churchill Downs, I have come up with a method that assigns a
point value to the performance of each prep race. But mine is more complex (and fair) because it assigns a
weighting value to the respective performance of a horse based on age of the
horse when raced, distance, race grade, finishing place, and to keep with the
tradition of the sport, graded stakes earnings. It also does not bias certain prep races as “more important”
than others, making races like the Illinois Derby inferior (that one’s for you,
The scale of the weights is below.
The points are calculated by taking the product of the
results of a race for the top 4 race finishers. At the end, the graded earnings are added, normalized to 25%
of the top earnings bankroll total before the derby. This method ensures that for winning a high-pursed race, the
graded stakes earnings will account for no more than 20% of the final point
total of the theoretical maximum (sorry, Daddy Long Legs).
Lets use Hansen as an example for this model:
For the 2011 Breeders Cup Juvenile (8.5f, G1), Hansen
finished in first place. So this means that his point total for this race would be:
Adding in the final factor of earnings with all of the
performances of his other races, we get a total of 691pts. This was the highest total of all
horses for this year. The
remaining totals and the respective place changes for the new field of 20 is
shown in the tables below
wrote this prior to the defection of Mark Valeski, so these tables are not
Based on these tables, there are some fairly significant
changes that would take place with the current 2012 field. The largest being that Went the Day Well, Trinniberg, and Done Talking would no longer qualify. This makes sense given that Trinniberg
is only a sprinter, and Went the Day Well/Done Talking only won a single graded
stakes race (with a high purse).
The major gainers that would now be a part of the race would
be Howe Great, Optimizer, and El Padrino, all of whom have performed more
consistently over multiple contests leading up to the derby, and not
necessarily just had 1 good day.
There are several inherent flaws to this system, as there
will be with any that is used. The
biggest flaw I see is that the possibility of a win-and-you’re-in situation is
still possible. I need to rethink
the scales a bit, but that’s what I am writing this. I’m open to suggestions. Also, there is no differentiation between dirt, synthetics,
and turf. It seems like we would
want to scale them differently in bias to dirt preps, but I have decided to
keep them equivalent.
All we can do is try to make the race as equal as possible
for what the Kentucky Derby is meant to symbolize. We want battle-tested thoroughbreds that represent the best
of their generation. After all,
the winner of this race is likely going to secure breeding rights as a stallion
for the rest of their lives, so why not enforce criteria that has the winner of
a 10f race filled by horses bred to run the distance, and have proven their
worthiness through durability and class during their early racing careers.
[Check out which races did qualify under the Kentucky Derby point system by clicking here]