The previous system determining the entrants to the Kentucky Derby was deemed too confusing for the general public, based on a poll conducted by Churchill Downs which showed 83% of respondents stating they did not understand how horses became starters for the race. As a result, the graded stakes earnings criteria, which were used since 1986, was replaced by the points system.
The current Road to the Kentucky Derby is a points system which features 36 stakes races for 3-year-old thoroughbereds. This point system replaces the previous system which consisted of about 185 graded stakes races worldwide.
The series is divided into two phases, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and the Kentucky Derby Championship Series.
The Kentucky Derby prep season consists of 19 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that typically are run between late September and late February. England’s Royal Lodge surface is the exception, which is on turf. Points are awarded to the top 4 finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The Kentucky Derby Championship season consists of two legs and a “wild card” round. The first leg includes eight races with a 50-20-10-5 scale. The second leg includes seven races with a 100-40-20-10 scale. The “wild card” consists of two races and has a 20-8-4-2 scale.
The top 20 point earners will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if at least 20 horses enter the race. Up to 24 horses may enter the race and four horses can be listed as “also eligible” and would be ranked in order accordingly in case any horse(s) is scratched prior to the race.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker to get into the race 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 a filly wants to run in the race she is eligible, but she’ll have to earn points the same as colts and geldings.
We haven’t heard anyone say this is an easily understandable system. A few of our Kentucky Derby Tours alumni said they would just watch the polls to see who can enter the Derby. We think this system may have a higher percentage of the general public that does not understand how horses becomes starters for the Kentucky Derby.