New Qualifying System for the Kentucky Derby
By Staff
Posted: 1/1/2014

Since 1986, Churchill Downs has used an earnings system in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. That has changed over the last few years as they have instituted a new system that began in 2014 and is called the Road to the Kentucky Derby. This new system is based on points for wins in races designated by Churchill Downs through two phases.
One phase will be called the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and the other the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. One immediately thinks of the NASCAR system when hearing this, but that’s not totally applicable. In NASCAR, the first ¾ of a season is used to determine the drivers who are eligible to win the championship. Drivers are awarded points according to where they finish in a race, as well as points for qualifying and leading the most laps in a race.
The new Kentucky Derby system will be similar in that finishing in the top four of certain graded races will net points for the horses and those points will determine which horses are eligible for the race. Additionally, qualifying for the Kentucky Oaks will fall under the same system. Under the old system, horses that were qualifying for the Derby and Oaks had to do so via their earnings.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby will consist of 36 graded stakes races over the course of a few months leading up to the first Saturday in May. The first phase will be known as the Kentucky Derby Prep Season. This “season” will include 19, one mile or longer races, that are typically run from September through February. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is included in this cluster of races, as are the Delta Jackpot, the Cash Call Futurity, and the Champagne Stakes.
The points will set up as follows; first place will be awarded ten points, with second garnering four points, third place gets two and one point will go to the fourth place finishers. These points will carry over into the Kentucky Derby Championship Series.
In the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, there will be two legs. The first leg will include eight races and the points awarded for finishing in the top four take a large jump from the prep series. First place finishers will net 50 points, while second gets 20, third gets ten, and fourth receives five. Included in this set of eight stakes races are the Risen Star, Gotham Stakes, and the Fountain of Youth.
The second leg of this series doubles the amount of points awarded from the first leg and includes a few of the bigger races that usually happen in mid to late March and throughout April. Among those contests are the Florida and Arkansas Derbys as well as the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial.
For horses that may be just short of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, two “wild card” races are added at the end of the series. These do not yield great point totals, but they have enough point potential that horses who are just short may participate. Those two races are the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.
Proponents of the changes say that the new system will force trainers to put their horses into races that are meaningful and usually full of top-rated competition. The new way of ranking the horses for the Derby will also make it easier for fans to understand and keep up. The opposition to the plan are not happy with the way that some important races are weighted the same as lesser races. For example, the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner will get the same amount of points as the winner of the Withers Stakes, which is a Grade III race. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is the race that crowns the two-year-old champion and now it will be reduced in stature when seen through the filter of the new Kentucky Derby system.
Anytime change comes along in regards to a process that has long held certain standards and criteria, there is bound to be resistance. In past years, changes to the championship systems in college and pro football, baseball, NASCAR, and NCAA basketball have taken place in the face of very vocal opposition. As time passes, adjustments are made and the people within those sports, as well as the fans, become accustomed to the new ways.
There is likely to be a growing pain or two in regards to the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but as time goes by, this could be a better way to get fans involved earlier in the racing season. It won’t take very long for the system to become commonplace and accepted. Thoroughbred racing seems to be hitting a bit of an uptick. Doing things that help fans better understand the sport and its processes can only help.
There have been changes made as to how a three-year-old thoroughbred gains entry to the Kentucky Derby, but you can still get in to see the race the old fashioned way; with a ticket. specializes in ticket packages, putting you in the right seat and hotel at the right price for your budget. Check out our website or call and speak with a friendly sales person at 877-DERBYKY and start planning your trip to Churchill Downs now!