Points, not money will qualify horses for Kentucky Derby - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Points, not money will qualify horses for Kentucky Derby

Darren Rogers Darren Rogers

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - We're in full Derby-prep swing in Louisville as people and horses get ready for the Kentucky Derby. This year marks a major change for Churchill Downs as those horses will get in with points, not money.

"The Kentucky Derby isn't supposed to be easy to get into," said Darren Rogers, Churchill Downs Senior Director for Communications and Media Services. "This is challenging."

For most of the past three decades, money got horses in to run for the roses, how much they earned in graded stakes races.

"So you have 185 races around the world and we realized that we did not have any control whatsoever of the horses that are entering our starting gate," Rogers said.

Last year Rogers said Churchill Downs announced a major shift: a points race to the starting gate. Win in any one of 36 designated races and add to your tally.

"(They're races) we've identified as the races that best prepare a horse to go a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May," Rogers said.

The most important of those come in the ten weeks leading up to Derby, called the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. It's kind of like the playoffs to the big race.  Points are quintupled, at a minimum.

"It's horse racing season, unlike other sports, we're a year-round sport," said Rogers. "We're showcasing and rewarding all those horses that are in top form late in their three year old season."

Rogers said it's working, drawing people into horse racing earlier in the year. Betting on Kentucky Derby Championship Series races was up eight-percent this year. It's also not without controversy. Not all races earn points. The Illinois Derby, for example, was left off the list. It's the race that propelled War Emblem to the Kentucky Derby in 2002.

"We had some tough decisions to make," Rogers said. "It's a little bit like March Madness and the selection committee. You scour various data points of information, you make some tough decisions and not everyone is going to be happy in the end."

After the crowds are gone and the Derby roses have faded Rogers said they'll sit down and evaluate the points race. But so far, "It did play out just like we thought.  It really did."

Right now, it looks like horses will need about 20 points to run this year on the first Saturday in May. They'll also have to win a tie-breaker, which is based on non-restricted graded stakes earnings.

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