The Road to Kentucky Derby and the Road to the Kentucky Oaks will start this Saturday, September 15th. The Churchill Downs stakes schedule has two important 1 1/16-mile races for juveniles that could produce starters in next spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Longines Kentucky Oaks. The $150,000 Iroquois kicks off the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1), while the $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) starts the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1).
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a points system by which horses qualify for a position in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. It features dozens of stakes races for 2 and 3-year-old Thoroughbreds – the number and specific races have changed slightly over the years. The point system replaced a previous qualifying system that looked at earnings from all graded stakes races worldwide.
There are 20 positions available in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Starting in 2017, one of those spots is reserved for the winner of the separate Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. If the winner of the Japan Road declines the offer, their position is offered to the next ranked Japanese horse. If none of the top four finishers accepts the offer, this position in the starting gate reverts to qualifiers on the regular Road to the Kentucky Derby. Starting in 2018, Churchill Downs developed a similar European Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The remaining 18 spots in the starting gate (or up 20 if the European and Japanese offers are declined) are offered to the top finishers on the main Road to the Kentucky Derby. If one of those horses does not enter the Derby, their position is given to the next ranked horses on the list. Up to 24 horses may enter the race, with the bottom four point-earners listed as “also eligible”. If any of the top 20 is scratched after entries are taken but before betting begins, the next ranked horse on the also eligible list will be eligible to run.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker to get into the Kentucky Derby will be earnings in non-restricted stakes races, whether or not they are graded. In the event of a tie, those horses will divide equally the points they would have received jointly had one beaten the other. If an owner wants to run a filly in the Derby, she will have to earn points in the same races as the colts and geldings – points earned of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks are not transferable to the Derby.