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Road to the Kentucky Derby - A More Balanced Point System

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, Brian Zipse).

 

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 

**I wrote this prior to the defection of Mark Valeski, so these tables are not fully updated

 

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] 

 

 

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Older Comments about Road to the Kentucky Derby - A More Balanced Point System...

I like this system. Giving more value to 3 year old races than 2 year old races makes sense, how many times have we seen horses peak as 2 year olds and flop in their 3 year old season? This system ensures that the Derby field will be filled with the best 3 year olds, all peaking at the right time. I don't care much for a horse who gets into the Derby because of one big win they had as a two year old.
I think the big advantage for the new Derby system is that because the traditional Derby preps like the Wood, Santa Anita Derby and Bluegrass have the greatest points, it will encourage the connections to run in these races. I believe we will see stronger fields and better races in these traditional preps. The old system with money as the determining factor tended to spread the horses out and weaken these races. A point system with too many races will have the same effect, it is unfortunate that some races, like the Illinois Derby, will suffer but racing will be better if the top horses face each other on the track more often.
But this way seems more logical than the one they just came up with
I dont really like that My Adonis moved up 5 spaces.....SCARY!!!
What about fillies?
Rest In Peace 'Giant Ryan', we will all miss you. Many thoughts go out to the owners and traing staff of the big fella. Thank you 'Giant Ryan for all the thrills you gave us....You truly had a 'GIANT' heart of a champion.
What are the creteria used to classify races in their levels? For examble a G1 or G2 or G3 etc.

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