With the calendar turning over into February I suppose it's time to take a peek as to where we stand on the Road to the 2014 Kentucky Derby. As was the case in 2013, qualification for the Derby is predicated on points earned in official Kentucky Derby prep races, as determined by the home of the Derby - Churchill Downs. Also similar to last year is the "tiered" nature of the points assigned to each race; races during the juvenile season are worth significantly fewer points than the bulk of the Derby preps in late February to April. And, just like last year, a horse can not qualify for the Derby by simply winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile... which pretty much doesn't matter since New Year's Day is already retired.
Before we take a look at where the standings sit right now, lets go through the prep race schedule and results to this point:
|9/28/2013||1||FrontRunner||8.5||Santa Anita Park||10-4-2-1||Bond Holder|
|10/5/2013||1||Breeders’ Futurity||8.5||Keeneland||10-4-2-1||We Miss Artie|
|11/2/2013||1||BC Juvenile||8.5||Santa Anita Park||10-4-2-1||New Year's Day|
|11/23/2013||3||Delta Downs Jackpot||8.5||Delta Downs||10-4-2-1||Rise Up|
|11/30/2013||2||Kentucky Jockey Club||8.5||Churchill Downs||10-4-2-1||Honor Code|
|1/11/2014||3||Sham||8.0||Santa Anita Park||10-4-2-1||Midnight Hawk|
|1/18/2014||3||Lecomte||8+70||Fair Grounds||10-4-2-1||Vicar's in Trouble|
|1/20/2014||Smarty Jones||8.0||Oaklawn Park||10-4-2-1||Tanzanite Cat|
|1/25/2014||2||Holy Bull||8.5||Gulfstream Park||10-4-2-1||Cairo Prince|
|2/8/2014||2||Robert B. Lewis||8.5||Santa Anita Park||10-4-2-1||Candy Boy|
||El Camino Real Derby||9.0||Golden Gate||10-4-2-1|
||Fountain of Youth||8.5||Gulfstream Park||50-20-10-5|
||Risen Star||8.5||Fair Grounds||50-20-10-5|
||Tampa Bay Derby||8.5||Tampa Bay||50-20-10-5|
||San Felipe||8.5||Santa Anita Park||50-20-10-5|
||Sunland Derby||9.0||Sunland Park||50-20-10-5|
||Florida Derby||9.0||Gulfstream Park||100-40-20-10|
||Louisiana Derby||9.0||Fair Grounds||100-40-20-10|
||Santa Anita Derby||9.0||Santa Anita Park||100-40-20-10|
||Arkansas Derby||9.0||Oaklawn Park||100-40-20-10|
Not a lot has changed from the 2013 version of the road to the Derby, with some minor exceptions:
- The race at Newmarket, the Royal Lodge, has been (thankfully) dropped from the program. I'm not sure what the motivation was to include a race for juveniles on the lawn in England as a race that earned points towards the Kentucky Derby, but a repeat of that error was avoided for 2014.
- The Lexington went from a race producing 20 points to the winner to just 10, probably a good correction.
- The Derby Trial is out as a points earning race which, yeah, seems about right. It was a nice idea to try and put some meaning into the Derby "Trial", but let's face it, we live in an era where the odds of a horse gaining qualification in the Derby Trial and even running a week later in the Derby was a huge long shot.
- The winner of the UAE Derby still earns an automatic spot in the Derby even though the race, historically, has little to no impact. I'm not sure what I would do with it since there is probably more to the inclusion of this race than simply the race's impact on the Derby (namely, trying to draw some international interest). It doesn't bother me tremendously that the race is included but, eh, I just can't get excited about a UAE Derby winner's potential impact on the Kentucky Derby.
- The Illinois Derby is still out and, I would imagine, that will be the case for quite some time.
Other than those changes, the system strikes the right notes to me, much as it did last year. I'm not sure the system employed the last couple of years really does anything to make the field noticeably better. But what it does do is prevent juveniles from earning a spot before they ever turn the age of three and it forces those colts to actually race (and race well) in the spring. While some see that as a negative, the lessening impact of juvenile results and form in determining the quality of the horse later in their career makes that an "okay" tradeoff in my view. But that's just me.
So, with the schedule out of the way, let's take a look at the standings as of last weekend's results:
|2||Cairo Prince||Kiaran McLaughlin||14|
|3||Honor Code||Shug McGaughey||14|
|5||Midnight Hawk||Bob Baffert||12|
|6||Bond Holder||Doug O'Neill||11|
|7||Rise Up||Tom Amoss||10|
|8||We Miss Artie||Todd Pletcher||10|
|10||Noble Moon||Leah Gyarmati||10|
|11||Ami's Holiday||Josie Carroll||10|
|12||Vicar's in Trouble||Mike Maker||10|
|14||Tanzanite Cat||Code Autrey||10|
|15||Candy Boy||John Sadler||10|
|17||Classic Giacnroll||Lisa Guerrero||5|
|18||Conquest Titan||Mark Casse||4|
|19||Dance with Fate||Peter Eurton
|20||Smarty's Echo||Anne Smith||4|
|22||Uncle Sigh||Gary Contessa||4|
|25||Laddie Boy||Chuck Peery||4|
|26||Smart Cover||Dale Romans||4|
|27||Big Bazinga||Sandra Dominguez||4|
|30||Intense Holiday||Todd Pletcher||3|
|31||Ride On Curlin||William Gowin||3|
|32||Strong Mandate||D. Wayne Lukas||2|
|34||Roman Unbridled||Chad Cook||2|
|38||Arctic Slope||Ken McPeek||2|
|39||Wicked Strong||Jimmy Jerkens||2|
|40||Gold Hawk||Steve Asmussen||2|
|41||Awesome Sky||Mark Casse||2|
|42||Can the Man||Bob Baffert||1|
|43||Rum Point||Doug O'Neill||1|
|44||Almost Famous||Patrick Byrne||1|
|46||Buck Magic||Dave Fawkes||1|
|47||Son of a Preacher||Bret Calhoun||1|
|48||I'll Wrap It Up||Doug O'Neill||1|
|49||Diamond Bachelor||Patrick Biancone||1|
*Italics = Not Triple Crown Nominated
If we're looking at last year's Derby pres point results, 10 points was the cutoff from spot #20 in the starting gate and the two AEs (Fear the Kitten - 6pts, and Carving - 2pts). Of course, that doesn't mean the cutoff is actually 10 points since dropouts are as big of a factor in the composition of the Derby field as the money or points earned by contenders throughout the spring. In 2013, 19 horses finished the Derby prep season with more than 10 points but were on the sidelines due to injuries or their connections removing them from consideration. And that really gets to the heart of what qualifying for the Kentucky Derby is all about, regardless of the structure of points or purses:
Three-year-old colts that are able to race consistently at the graded stakes level during the months leading up to the Derby, and are able to run at least one or two quality races during that time, are most likely going to earn a spot in the starting gate.
The horses that don't make it to Louisville miss out on the Derby because they either A) have to deal with injuries or other physical issues, or B) they just aren't ready to step up to this level at this point in their career. But, in the most basic sense, if a colt is able to run in three or four Derby preps this spring, finish near the front a couple of times, and is physically ready to run on the first Saturday in May, he'll be in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
At this point in the 2014 road to the roses, no horse has guaranteed a spot in the Derby, although if they were to stay healthy through the rest of the prep season, colts like Havana, Cairo Prince and Honor Code would probably find themselves on the bubble, assuming a drop out rate consistent with 2013. On the other hand, do you think if Havana were to run so poorly that he doesn't earn a single point from now until the end of the prep season that his connections would still be pushing him to the Derby? I think that's debatable.
What's all this mean? It's early and lots of things are going to change over the next two and a half months. At a minimum, at least we know which colts are running well in February and have the potential to keep moving forward towards the 2014 Kentucky Derby.