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Churchill Downs to Permit Also-Eligible Entrants for Derby, Oaks Beginning in 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 12/16/2011 #
  • A field of 19 horses broke from the starting gate at Churchill Downs in Kentucky Derby 137. (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

Churchill Downs will permit four also-eligible entrants to the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), America’s greatest race, and the $1 million guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (GI), the nation’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, beginning with the respective 138th runnings of those races in 2012.

For the first time in the recent history of those races, the new system allows as many as four horses to remain eligible to compete in each race beyond the official time of entry and one or more of the “also eligible” horses could be allowed to run in their respective race if members of the original fields for their races scratch from the race within a specified period of time.  A maximum of 20 horses is allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby, the 1 ¼-mile race for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds conducted each year on the first Saturday in May, while the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby’s 1 1/8-mile counterpart for fillies run on the eve of the Derby, is limited to 14 starters.

Entries for the Kentucky Derby are due the Wednesday before the race, while Oaks entries are taken on the Tuesday before its annual Friday renewal.  Also-eligible horses would be permitted to compete in the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks if there are scratches from either race prior to their shared official “scratch time” of 9 a.m. (Eastern) on Friday, Kentucky Oaks Day.  That time is the opening of wagering on the Kentucky Oaks Day racing program and the beginning of preliminary betting on the Kentucky Derby.

In the event of a scratch or scratches from either race, preference among also-eligible entrants would be determined under the current eligibility system for the Derby and Oaks.  Horses with the highest total earnings in graded stakes races would “draw-in” to the field for their respective race.  If the total entrants for either of those races should exceed the maximum field size plus four, the four horses listed as also-eligible entrants would be determined by the same system.

“There has been significant discussion in recent years regarding also-eligible entrants for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, especially in light of the late scratches of Derby favorites I Want Revenge in 2009 and Uncle Mo from this year’s running,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack.  “Our concerns have always focused on preliminary wagering on the Kentucky Derby permitted during our Kentucky Oaks Day racing program, including refunds of wagers on scratched Derby horses and potential confusion during those two special days among our massive crowds of bettors.

“Also-eligible horses for Oaks will have nearly three days of opportunity to get into their race, while the Derby’s window for also-eligible entrants to participate is just under 48 hours. We feel strongly that the deadline for also-eligible horses to join the Derby field must be set before preliminary wagering on the race begins.  Despite the more limited window for also-eligible horses for the Derby, this system provides owners and trainers an opportunity to keep their Derby dreams alive that has never existed before.”

Equibase past performances for also-eligible horses for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks will appear in racing programs along with the original fields for the two races.  As many as four also-eligible horses outside of the Kentucky Derby’s 20-horse field would be listed, in order of preference, with program numbers 21, 22, 23 and 24.  Kentucky Oaks also-eligible fillies would be numbered between 15 and 18, also in order of preference.

In the event of a scratch from either the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks fields, horses in post positions outside of the scratched horses would move in a spot and the also-eligible horse would then occupy the outermost position in the starting gate.  Also-eligible entrants are not required to compete in either race in the event of a scratch.

The decision to permit also-eligible entrants to the Kentucky Derby will allow that possibility for the first time since a two-year period in the early 1980’s.  Churchill Downs adjusted its Kentucky Derby rules in 1982 to allow up to eight also-eligible entrants, but reversed that policy following the 1983 “Run for the Roses.”  Twenty horse fields were entered in the Derby in each of those years, so the also-eligible rule never came into play.

The historic track first imposed its 20-horse Derby field limit in 1975 after a record 23 Thoroughbreds competed in 1974’s Centennial Derby won by Cannonade.  The field was limited to the 20 3-year-olds with the highest career earnings,but following a 1981 legal challenge that enabled 21 horses to run in the Derby won by Pleasant Colony, Churchill Downs established its current policy to restrict the field to the 20 horses with the highest career earnings in graded, non-restricted stakes.