When it was announced that Churchill Downs would implement a new points-based system beginning in 2013 to determine the Kentucky Derby field, there was much griping about how both prep-season strategy and the final Derby lineup would be affected by getting rid of the old graded-stakes earnings criteria.
The reactionary angst proved for naught once the system played out last season as late defections allowed Giant Finish — who had just 10 points — entry into the field.
Under the points system, major prep races like the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes held in the final six weeks leading up to the Derby carry the highest potential value. Among the major concerns expressed when the new system was announced in 2012 was that it diminished the importance of top 2-year-old races like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which is worth just 10 points to the winner.
Had 2012 juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby not been sidelined by injury prior to the Derby, the 24 points he had earned — 20 of which came during his 2-year-old season — still would have qualified.
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"It (the points system) is not a concern," said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won his first Kentucky Derby in 2013 with Orb — who earned 150 points. "I've always sort of felt like if a horse deserves to be in the Derby he'll be in. So if he's one of those who will deserve it he'll have the points and if they don't they don't."
Some tweaks were made to the points system for 2014, dropping four races — including the Derby Trial — and adding the Iroquois Stakes and the Jerome Stakes. The Illinois Derby is the most notable prep that has yet to be included.
"I think it needs to be looked at, there are some flaws in it," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of the system. "But there were flaws in the graded-stakes system, so I know they're trying to do the right thing. But I'm not concerned. If something happens and we don't get there then that's what was meant to be."