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2018 Road To The Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby Qualifying Races
Horses that run in the Derby do so at the age of three, but they begin the journey to Churchill Downs in their two-year-old season. All horses foaled in the Northern Hemisphere turn a year older on the 1st of January, no matter what month they were actually born in.
Since 2012, the Kentucky Derby has used a points-based system to qualify 20 horses for the big race, and these points are accumulated by horses that run, and gain a top-four result, in 45 different races in the United States, Japan, and the UK. These are often referred to as Kentucky Derby "prep" races. Of course, no horse runs in all the races, and due to the fact races held later in the series award more points than the earlier races, it's possible for a horse to qualify off the strength of a single win or even a runner-up finish in one of the higher-point races.
For example, 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming accumulated all of the 100 points he needed to qualify by winning a single prep, the (G1) Florida Derby. On the other hand, 2016 winner Nyquist made the Derby gate by winning three Kentucky Derby preps, the (G1) Frontrunner Stakes, the (G1) Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and, like Always Dreaming, the (G1) Florida Derby. Which races a horse runs in is solely determined by the horse's trainer, as per the prep schedule the trainer believes is best for that particular horse.
United States Prep Races
In the United States, the 2018 qualifying series began with the running of the (G3) Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 16, 2017. From then through to the running of the (G3) Southwest Stakes on February 19, 2018, there are 20 races that award points to the top-four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. There are two exceptions to this, namely the (G1) Breeders' Cup Juvenile, that awards points on a 20-8-4-2 scale, and the (G2) Risen Star Stakes, which awards points on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Following the Southwest Stakes, six of the next seven qualifying races in the US award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale, with the exception being the (G1) Louisiana Derby, which awards points on a 100-40-20-10 scale. In the last five or six weeks prior to the Derby things really begin to heat up, as there are six races that take place between March 31 and April 14 that award points on the 100-40-20-10 scale.
The final US race in the series, the (G3) Lexington Stakes is essentially a last chance for horses that are sitting on the bubble of qualifying, and awards points on a 20-8-4-2 scale.
Japan and UK Prep Races
As for Japan and the UK, one spot in the starting gate is reserved for a horse that qualifies from each of those two regions. Two races in Japan award points on a 10-4-2-1 scale, while one other awards 30-12-6-3. In the UK there are seven qualifying races, with the first four awarding 10-4-2-1 points, the next two awarding 20-8-4-2 and the final race, the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle on March 30, 2018 awarding 30-12-6-3.
If the owners of either of the two horses that qualify in Japan or the UK decline to enter the Derby, then the US-based horses that end up in the 21st and 22nd spots on the final qualifying list draw into the field. Every year the final points needed to get in to the top 20 will vary - in 2017, Sonnateer grabbed the #20 spot with 30 points, while in 2016, Mo Tom was #20 with 32 points.
Typically, two or three horses that sit just outside of the Top 20 will remain on the "Also Eligible" list right up until the day before the race, in the event one of the other qualifiers has to withdraw due to injury. Otherwise, with the conclusion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep season, the field will be set for the 2018 Derby.
You can follow along and place your bets on all the Kentucky Derby prep races, including future bets on the Derby itself, with an account at Bovada or another top-rated online racebook.
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