CHURCHILL ESTABLISHES "ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY"
Move over, graded stakes earnings. Churchill Downs announced Thursday that it has established a new points system for qualifying for the GI Kentucky Derby next spring. Dubbed the "Road to the Kentucky Derby," the system will be comprised of 36 races, beginning this fall. The graded stakes system of determining Derby starters had been in place since 1986.
"Our primary driving motive is to create new fans for horse racing," said CDI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Evans. "We're implementing a more fan-friendly, cohesive and simplified system that should create compelling drama and appeal to a wider customer base. Fans, as well as the owners and trainers of the horses, will know exactly which races are included and what races matter the most based on a sliding scale of points.
"Additionally, the new system, which gives us greater stability, represents historical relevancy and helps
to ensure our longstanding mission of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May. We want to maximize the quality of the Derby field and protect the integrity of the race, while respecting the tradition and relevance of paths taken to the race by previous Kentucky Derby winners and prominent starters."
In the past, fillies could qualify for the Kentucky Derby based on graded earnings accrued by racing against their own sex, but that will no longer be the case. If a filly earns points in any of the races that are part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, she will also be credited with them in the new "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" series.
There will be two phases in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with points being alloted to the first four finishers in the designated races. The first phase will be known as the "Kentucky Derby Prep Season," a period between September through February that will consist of 19 races at least a mile in distance run over dirt or synthetic. The lone exception will be the G2 Royal Lodge S. on the grass at Newmarket. The first four finishers in those races will be awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Those points will increase markedly during the second phase, known as the "Kentucky Derby Championship Series," which will get underway in late February/early March. In the first leg of the series, 3-year-olds will be awarded points based on a 50-20-10-5 scale in the following races: GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds; GII Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream; GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct; GII Tampa Bay Derby; GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita; GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn GIII Spiral S. at Turfway; GIII Sunland Derby at Sunland Park
In the second leg of the "Kentucky Derby Championship Series," the points scale will be 100-40-20-10 in the premier spring races listed below: GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream; G2 UAE Derby at Meydan; GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds; GI Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct; GI Santa Anita Derby; GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn; and GI Blue Grass S. Keeneland. There will also be two "Wild Card" races with a points scale of 20-8-4-2, the GIII Lexington S. at Keeneland and the GIII Derby Trial S. at Churchill.
The races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be reviewed annually, with the schedule expected to be announced in July.
"If someone comes to us with an idea that we think is innovative and makes the 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' better, we'll certainly be open to it," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. "At this point and time, what we've assumed here is that the racetracks will run the same races under the same conditions around the same dates as last year. If not, we'll have to adjust the schedule."