'Road to the Kentucky Derby' series tweaked; Illinois Derby still out

awincze@herald-leader.comAugust 9, 2013 

Churchill Downs Racetrack officials announced Friday that 34 races will be included in the 2013-14 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, a tiered point system in select races that will determine who qualifies for the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The total number of races in the series has been reduced by two. Four races — the Grade I CashCall Futurity, Europe's Royal Lodge Stakes, the Sam F. Davis and the Derby Trial — have been dropped from the series while the Grade III Iroquois Stakes and Grade II Jerome were added.

Despite outcry by many over its exclusion a year ago, the Illinois Derby — a race that produced 2002 Kentucky Derby winner and eventual champion War Emblem — remains absent on the points series schedule.

Churchill Downs' Iroquois, which was previously staged in late October, has been moved to the track's inaugural 12-date September Meet (Sept. 6-29) and will kick-start the series on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Jerome at Aqueduct was repositioned to early January this year to bolster New York's 3-year-old series.

Additionally, the points awarded to the top four finishers in the lone remaining "Wild Card" race, the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, have been halved from 20-8-4-2 to 10-4-2-1.

A year ago, Churchill Downs abandoned the 27-year-old graded stakes earnings criteria and proactively adopted a tiered point system to determine which horses would have preference for the Kentucky Derby. Today, a sliding scale of points is awarded to the top four finishers in select races, and at the series' end, the top 20 point earners nominated to the Triple Crown get first crack to start in the Kentucky Derby.

"Our team continues to believe that contraction is best for the 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' to flourish," said Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery. "Many of our internal goals were met at the conclusion of this year's inaugural series. We established a clear and understandable path to the Derby; saw increased fan interest and wagering; created compelling drama; and ensured that our starting gate was filled with top 3-year-olds that were best prepared to go a mile-and-a-quarter on the first Saturday in May. With a 'less-is-more' approach and continued support from stakeholders and our racetrack partners, we hope to continue to move the ball forward in 2013-14."

"Prep Season" races award 10 points to the winner, 4 to the runner-up, 2 to third and 1 to fourth. Point values escalate by 5 times to 10 times for the "Championship Series," which is comprised of the most meaningful springboard events within the 10-week run-up to the Derby.

Horses on the "bubble" looking to increase their point totals have the option of running in the Lexington.

A similar series remains in place for the "Road to the Kentucky Oaks," the Derby's $1 million companion event for 3-year-old fillies.

Aqueduct's Busher was added to the "Kentucky Oaks Prep Season," while six races were removed. The five races no longer in the "Prep Season" are Newmarket's Fillies' Mile; Hollywood Park's Hollywood Starlet; Gulfstream Park's 6½ -furlong Old Hat; the UAE 1,000 Guineas; and Golden Gate's California Oaks. Also, Aqueduct's Cicada, now an ungraded 6-furlong sprint, has been removed from the "Kentucky Oaks Championship Series."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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