After recent cancellations of Sunday’s Sunland Derby (G3) and Keeneland’s April 4 Blue Grass Stakes (G2), only six prep races remain on the current road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby. But as with many elements of the race now set for Sept. 5, changes are coming.
In a teleconference Tuesday morning, Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said that while Derby points issued thus far count toward the race, existing stakes races across the country will be added as qualifiers.
That could mean added incentive for connections entering horses in races such as the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1).
“We will work with other prominent partner tracks that operate throughout the summer and determine the various paths to the starting gate at the Derby that enable the horses in the best form to compete,” Carstanjen said.
Saturday’s Louisiana Derby (G2) marks the first prep of the season that offers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to its top-four finishers. A win there, and it’s in to the Kentucky Derby.
Historically, second place’s 40 points also have been enough to crack the field of 20. With more preps to be added, however, the threshold could reach an all-time high in 2020.
Most U.S. racetracks have continued carding races closed to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the March 28 UAE Derby (G2) and Florida Derby (G1), the April 4 Wood Memorial (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), and the April 11 Arkansas Derby (G1) are all a go — for now.
Each of those events are also 100-40-20-10 points preps. How the Derby trail’s additions will scale, and which races make the schedule, are to be determined.
Other two-turn graded events for 3-year-olds that typically run in the summer include Churchill’s Matt Winn (G3); Santa Anita’s Affirmed (G3); Thistledown’s Ohio Derby (G3); Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby (G3); and Mountaineer’s West Virginia Derby (G3).
The New York Racing Association hasn’t released its Saratoga stakes schedule, including the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers. It would seem inevitable, however, that the Travers moves from its traditional late August spot to create ample spacing from the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers said Japanese and European roads to the Derby are still open, too. It’s possible races will be added to both paths this summer.
All of this creates a new challenge for trainers. Often, horses prepared to peak on the first Saturday in May aren’t at that same level by September. Said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery: “We’re going to adjust so the best horses in the best form compete in the Kentucky Derby.”