How Horses Qualify for the Kentucky Derby

Ever wonder how horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby?
This race, famously dubbed “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” will have its 143rd running in May of 2017. Saturday, May 6 will be race day at the famous Churchill downs, named after John and Henry Churchill who provided the land the track sits on.

What kind of horses can race the Kentucky Derby?
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds and is a mile and a fourth long. Horses are between 121 and 126 pounds (fillies are 121 and colts and geldings 126).

All horses in the Kentucky Derby must be a direct descendant of one of three stallions, Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian or Byerly Turk. These thoroughbreds are usually gray, black or brown in color and stand over 15 hands high. They have long necks, a well-defined head, and a short back. They usually possess a lean body and long legs.

All horses must be three-year-old thoroughbred horses leveled at Grade I, at the top of their class and with enough Group I winnings in past races to ensure the horse is actually fit for the race’s level.

How do horses qualify for the Derby?
For the past five years, the points system named The Road to the Kentucky Derby has been used to qualify thoroughbreds. This points system was created in 2012 to provide an easily understood path for the first part of Triple Crown.

The Triple Crown (or The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing) is a prestigious award for the three-year-old thoroughbred that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

The 2016- 2017 Road to the Kentucky Derby contains 35 stakes races for the 3-year-old thoroughbreds. These 35 races are split into two different parts, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and then the Kentucky Derby Championship Series.

The Kentucky Derby Prep Season features around 19 races and distances of about a mile or more. Usually, races are on dirt turf or synthetic tracks. Top finishers are awarded a sliding scale of points.

After the Prep Season finishes there are 16 premiere events that will make up the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. These 16 events occur over the 10 weeks that precede the first Saturday in May. These races are on dirt or synthetic surfaces only.
The points awarded to the top-finishing horses in these races receive much higher points than the Prep Season points.
The final race is considered a “wild card” race for horses to receive a few extra points. Non-restricted stakes races will break any tiebreakers.

Earning top points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby isn’t all that is required to race. There are several monetary fees required to participate in the Derby. Starter fees, nomination fees, and entry fees are all required to start in the Derby.

Only 20 horses will be lucky enough to be entered for the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, KY. Winners of the 2017 Kentucky Derby are guaranteed a $2 million sum.

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Allen Bourassa

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