Happy New Year, and now that it is 2014, is it too early to start thinking about the first Saturday in May, better known as the Kentucky Derby? The answer, of course is no. The world’s biggest race uses a points system to determine which 20 horses get the privilege of running in the May 3 affair over 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs. Before this implementation, graded stakes earnings were used, but most believe that the points systems is a better way to earn your way in because it forces trainers to run their horses in some of the bigger prep races.
In fairness, the point system does discriminate against fillies. Before, a filly could enter a $500,000 fillies only race, win it, and the $300,000 first place prize would likely be enough to make the field, and as we know, fillies have won this race in the past, the last being Winning Colors in 1988. Now, the fillies have to enter races against the boys to get the points. One would hope that the powers that be would set up at least one fillies only race with enough points to help the young ladies out in their attempt to get into the Kentucky Derby.
There is no rule against fillies entering the big prep races like the Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial and the argument is that if they want to run in the Derby, they’re going to have race against the boys eventually. There are others that believe that not having fillies’ only point races keeps the Kentucky Oaks in play. The Oaks, contested the day before the Derby has a big purse and draws well over 100,000 people to the track, easily the second biggest crowd at Churchill Downs. And, with tracks doing anything they can to get people to come, why jeopardize having a less than stellar field in the Oaks? The Oaks is not a second rate race either, in fact, there is an innocent charm to the ladies only event that in some ways, makes it better if not equal of the Kentucky Derby.
For now, the system is what it is, perhaps it will change to accommodate the fillies, but right now, the only way for a filly to get into the Kentucky Derby is to run a prep against the boys and get those points. I do think those are Churchill Downs who set up the points system are missing the boat a bit here. Think about this; the Derby gets the highest television ratings of any horse race, many of the viewers are females and many attend Kentucky Derby parties all over the country and wearing hats for the occasion. If a filly is entered, these women are going to root for the filly, and if they’re smart, the husbands and girlfriends of these women will also root for the filly. When Eight Belles ran in the 2008 Derby, she was the only filly and who wasn’t rooting for her (she finished second)? One filly, 19 colts and the sentiment is always going to be with the one, the underdog—the filly! It’s the classic girl against the boys, and most Americans like that.
There are three types of prep “point,” races. There are 100, 50 and 10 point races with the winning horse getting those points respectively. The top four finishers receive points, and at the end, the top 20 make the Derby field. If there are more than 20 horses with enough points, graded stakes earnings is the tiebreaker. Right now, we’re still in the 10 point races, so in effect, a colt (or filly) probably needs at least two prep races to secure a spot in the field.
The first 50 point race is Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 22 at 1 1/16 miles while the first 100 point race is the March 29 Florida Derby, also at Gulfstream Park at 1 1/8 miles. Keeping with the New York theme, old Aqueduct will certainly have a say as to who makes the Kentucky Derby field. Today is the $200,000 Jerome at one mile and seventy yards with 10 points going to the winner.
The other Derby prep races include the Withers (1 1/16 miles) on February 1, a 10 point race; the Gotham (1 1/16 miles) , a 50 point race on March 1, and of course, the big one, the Wood Memorial with its $1 million purse and 100 points at 1 1/8 miles on April 5. As we know, New York will definitely play its part in the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
Let’s give a belated happy birthday to all foals that were born in 2011, as they all officially are three years old and now eligible to run in the Triple Crown races. In horse racing, all celebrate their birthday on January 1 regardless of their actual birthdate. And, that sometimes plays a part in the development of a horse. In the Derby, you could have a colt that was born on January 1 running against one who was born September 1, who obviously hasn’t really turned three. To me, not a big deal, but it makes for good copy in the press, and does explain the process to those who only watch at Kentucky Derby time.
The Derby is just 17 weeks away—-17 weeks or roughly 119 days. Is too early to get excited?