As the two-year-old racing season concludes, the road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby is open and traffic will get a bit heavier as the Prep Races begin in earnest.
If you’re new to horse racing you might have questions about how all of this works. Well wonder no more, the Daily Racing Blog is here to help.
Here is a basic 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 2020. There were over 21,000 thoroughbred foals born that year, and only 20 horses can run in the Kentucky Derby. So there is less than a one in a thousand chance that any given Thoroughbred born in 2020 will compete in the Derby, and a one in 21,000 chance of Winning.
WHAT: PREP RACES: To get to the Kentucky Derby, a horse need to run successfully in Prep Races. These are competitions specifically designated by the Kentucky Derby to help make horses eligible for the first Saturday in May, and each Prep Race has become a huge draw as a result.
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 likely have an answer for you.
And let’s not forget the cash. 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. Prep Races have designated points that go to the Winner, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers. The early prep races have the fewest points, while the races in late March and early April offer higher point totals.
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 twice.
Those instances being 2019 when COUNTRY HOUSE had earned only 50 points. (However, had MAXIMUM SECURITY not been disqualified he would have continued the trend with his 100 qualifying points.)
And, of course, last year when RICH STRIKE pulled off his stunning upset having earned all of 21 points
So when May finally rolls around and you’re looking at Derby contenders, tossing horses with less than 100 points is usually a good way to narrow the field, at least somewhat.