Yes I know, the Kentucky Derby is quite a long way off but I read a recent article about changes made to the points system and which horses will get an entry.
We already know that the current system excludes fillies unless a filly competes in the Churchill Downs selected qualifying races against colts. So we are unlikely to see another Genuine Risk or Winning Colors under the current system, which is a shame really but I can make justification that fillies should be required to meet the same requirements as colts to enter. Not that I agree but I can make the argument.
A few years back the UAE Derby became essentially a lock race for entry into the Derby because it gives 100 points to the winner. Last year we saw the introduction of a Japanese path to the Derby. New for 2018 we have a European path to the Kentucky Derby consisting of a series of turf and synthetic races. The combination of these “paths” can account for up to 4 spots in the starting gate given to horses that never faced competition in the United States. 1 Japan, 1 Europe, and 2 from UAE Derby since second place gets 50 points and that is usually enough to get in.
The obvious question is why? Why would Churchill want to offer spots to horses that really probably could not qualify otherwise? The easy answer is money, generating interest on different continents will increase handle and line the pockets of folks at Churchill. I’m fine with making money, don’t get me wrong, but watering down the field doesn’t need to be the answer. Increase the purse. If Churchill wants the Kentucky Derby to be a big multi-national race with worldwide interest, why not increase the purse? $2,000,000 is hardly in line with other top races around the world in this day and age.
Historically the Kentucky Derby has been a race for American 3yo dirt horses. There have been a couple exceptions to this but in general even those horses with international flavor competed in US based races to qualify. Animal Kingdom never won a race on dirt before winning the derby, but he qualified by winning the Spiral at Turfway. Even a horse like Barbaro that won most of his starts on turf had to prove it in a high level qualifier to insure his spot in the starting gate by winning the Florida Derby.
I’m not opposed to “foreign invaders” competing in the Kentucky Derby, so let’s not make it about that. I simply think that if a filly has to face the boys in qualifying races, then foreign horses can cross the pond and compete in those races as well. Most of us will remember Arazi, he was the foreign superstar that destroyed a 2yo field in the Breeder’s Cup juvenile and he had tons of fans here in the United States when he returned to run in the Kentucky Derby, but again he won an important race to get there.
The world already has international races where horses from all over the world compete for huge purses. Events like the Breeder’s Cup, Dubai World Cup, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup and Royal Ascot do a great job with this. I see no need for the Kentucky Derby to become one of those events, but if it does want to be that type of event, increase the purse and come up with a better system for who gets in the starting gate.
The European folks here can correct me if I am wrong but I doubt there is a path to say The Epsom or 2000 Guineas where an American horse can win a couple races on dirt and turf and get an automatic bid into the race. If an American owner wants to compete in those races they would need to ship the horse to Europe and prove the horse deserves a spot by competing against the best in Europe. Those races are for 3 year old turf horses that compete in Europe and that is exactly how it should be.
I think that in an effort to gain more worldwide appeal and increased handle that Churchill is hurting the tradition of the Kentucky Derby and watering down the competition in the process. I see no need for manufactured paths to the starting gate for horses that never face competition in the United States. Let’s leave those types of races where they belong, in Invitationals and International racing fairs.
Fire away with the comments, I think this topic deserves discussion.