This year’s Road To The Kentucky Derby is in full-swing, but if you’re new to horse racing you may have some questions about how all of this works.
Well, wonder no more. Here is an easy overview about qualifying for The Run For The Roses.
WHO: Three-Year-Old Thoroughbreds. When you hear that Winning the Kentucky Derby is a once-in-a-lifetime event, that’s a literal statement. Only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds are eligible to run in the big race, so the competition is fierce and a second chance at glory isn’t coming next year. Look at it this way: This year’s Derby contenders were all born in 2019. There were 19,295 Thoroughbred foals (baby horses) born that year, and only 20 horses can run in the Kentucky Derby. So that’s about a one in a thousand chance that any given Thoroughbred born in 2019 will make it to the starting gate the first Saturday in May, 2022.
WHAT: Prep Races. To get to the Kentucky Derby, you need to run successfully in prep races. These are competitions specifically designated by the Kentucky Derby to help make horses eligible for the Run For The Roses, and each prep race has become a huge draw as a result.
WHERE: Worldwide Horse racing is a global sport, so why should Kentucky Derby qualifiers only happen in the U.S.? In addition to the United States, prep races are contested in the U.K., Ireland, Japan, U.A.E., and France.
WHEN: From September to April. The Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May every year, so prep races begin in the September of runners’ 2-year-old season and continue until the next April.
WHY: Glory… But Also Money. When a horse Wins big races like these Kentucky Derby preps, two things happen: They go down in the history books (ask any racing nerd who Won the biggest prep race at their favorite track 20 years ago and they’ll very likely have an answer for you) and they make hay. Most Kentucky Derby qualifying races carry substantial purse money, and if the horse that Wins is able to be bred, a Victory in a major Derby prep race very much adds to his stud value.
HOW: Get the Points Horses gain entry to the Kentucky Derby by earning points. The prep races mentioned above each have designated points that go to the Winner, 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishers. The earliest prep races in September have the fewest points (10 to the Winner, four to 2nd, two to the 3rd-place finisher, and one point to the horse who comes in 4th) while the races in late March and early April have the most (100 to the Winner, 40 to the 2nd-place finisher, 20 to 3rd, and 10 to 4th.)
And make no mistake: These points matter. Since this system began in 2013, horses with 100 qualifying points or more have Won the Kentucky Derby all but two times: ORB (2013, 150 points), California Chrome (2014, 150 points), AMERICAN PHAROAH (2015, 160 points), NYQUIST (2016, 130 points), ALWAYS DREAMING (2017, 100 points), and JUSTIFY (2018, 100 points). The outliers are 2019 Winner, COUNTRY HOUSE, who earned 50 points, and last year’s (former) Winner, MEDINA SPIRIT, who had 74 points.
There you have it. You now possess some rudimentary knowledge of prep races and the qualifying process for the Kentucky Derby.