Churchill Downs Racetrack officials announced Friday that 34 races will be included in the 2013-14 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, including 16 significant events that comprise the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” over the 10 weeks that precede the first Saturday in May.
The 140th running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) will be run Saturday, May 3, 2014, and for the second consecutive year, a tiered point system in select races will determine who qualifies to America’s greatest race.
The total number of races in the series has been reduced by two. Two races have been added to and three others were removed from the “Prep Season” which includes foundation-building races over a minimum of one mile between September and mid-February. Additionally, one “Wild Card” race has been removed.
Churchill Downs’ Iroquois, which was previously staged in late October, has been moved to the track’s inaugural 12-date September Meet (Sept. 6-29) and will kick-start the series on Saturday, Sept. 7. The other new addition to the lineup is the Jerome at Aqueduct, which was repositioned to early January this year to bolster New York’s 3-year-old series.
While Churchill Downs has added the Iroquois, it dropped its Derby Trial, which has been staged one week in advance of the Derby since 1982, as a “Wild Card” race. A trio of “Prep Season” races also was removed from the schedule: the Royal Lodge, Europe’s lone juvenile race on turf; the CashCall Futurity at soon-to-be-closed Betfair Hollywood Park; and South Florida’s Sam F. Davis.
Additionally, the points awarded to the Top 4 finishers in the lone remaining “Wild Card” race, the Lexington at Keeneland, have been halved from 20-8-4-2 to 10-4-2-1.
A year ago, Churchill Downs abandoned the 27-year-old graded stakes earnings criteria and proactively adopted a tiered point system to determine which horses would have preference for the Kentucky Derby. Today, a sliding scale of points is awarded to the Top 4 finishers in select races, and at the series’ end, the Top 20 point earners nominated to the Triple Crown get first crack to start in the Kentucky Derby.
“Our team continues to believe that contraction is best for the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ to flourish,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “Many of our internal goals were met at the conclusion of this year’s inaugural series. We established a clear and understandable path to the Derby; saw increased fan interest and wagering; created compelling drama; and ensured that our starting gate was filled with top 3-year-olds that were best prepared to go a mile-and-a-quarter on the first Saturday in May. With a ‘less-is-more’ approach and continued support from stakeholders and our racetrack partners, we hope to continue to move the ball forward in 2013-14.”
Year-over-year betting on “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” races in 2013 increased 7% or $2.6 million to $39.6 million. Despite heavy rainfall throughout Kentucky Derby Day itself, Churchill Downs had record off-track wagering ($163.5 million), the second-highest all-sources betting handle in Derby history ($184.6 million) and a 9% jump in viewership on NBC to 16.2 million.
Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable’s Orb, who topped the inaugural leaderboard with 150 points, won the 1 ¼-mile classic by 2 ½ lengths in 2:02.89 for Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III and jockey Joel Rosario.
As was the case in 2013, the tiebreaker when two or more horses have the same number of points will be earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
“Prep Season” races award 10 points to the winner, 4 to the runner-up, 2 to third and 1 to fourth. Point values escalate by 5X to 10X for the “Championship Series,” which is comprised of the most meaningful springboard events within the 10-week run up to the Derby. Each race in the first leg of the “Championship Series” between Feb. 22-March 23 is worth 50 points to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 10 to third and 5 to fourth. The seven lucrative races staged three-to-five weeks ahead of the Derby offer lofty points worth twice as much as the first leg: 100 to first, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth.
As a result, the winners of races in the first leg and the Top 2 finishers of second leg races have the upper hand, and horses that earned points during the “Prep Season” could be in the mix with Top 4 placings. Horses on the “bubble” looking to increase their point totals have the option of running in the Lexington, which serves as a “Wild Card” race.
A similar series remains in place for the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks,” the Derby’s $1 million companion event for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, May 2. 2014. The total number of races in the Oaks series has been reduced from 34 to 29 races.
Aqueduct’s Busher was added to the “Kentucky Oaks Prep Season,” while six races were removed. The five races no longer in the “Prep Season” are Newmarket’s Fillies’ Mile; Betfair Hollywood Park’s Hollywood Starlet; Gulfstream Park’s 6 ½-furlong Old Hat; the UAE 1,000 Guineas; and Golden Gate’s California Oaks. Additionally, Aqueduct’s Cicada, now an ungraded six-furlong sprint, has been removed from the “Kentucky Oaks Championship Series.”
Fillies are not excluded from running in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, but they must accrue points against open company in series races just like the rest of the colts and geldings in order to qualify. Any points earned by a Triple Crown-nominated filly in a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race will be credited to her point total in the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series but not vice-versa.
To have a horse draped in the garland of roses while raising the solid gold trophy high atop the Kentucky Derby winner’s stand is the Holy Grail for horsemen around the world. Restricted to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, horses only have one chance to win the Kentucky Derby, and it’s quite an accomplishment just to receive a berth in the starting gate.
Approximately 25,500 Thoroughbreds were foaled in North America three years ago in 2011, and if history is any indication, about one percent of the crop will be nominated to next spring’s Triple Crown. Only 20 will be allowed to “Run for the Roses,” as the Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975. At least 20 horses have entered the race since 2004, and 13 of the last 15 years.
Once a horse earns its coveted Kentucky Derby berth, it, in most cases, will race the extended 1 ¼-mile distance for the first time. A combination of speed and the stamina it takes to complete the final eighth of a mile in the Derby often determines a win or loss.
Click here to see 2013-14 schedules for the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks (pages 3 and 4, respectively).