How Thoroughbred Horses Gain Entry in the Kentucky Derby

How the Kentucky Derby field is assembled

As Derby fever sets in the overriding question becomes, how do horses gain entry into the Kentucky Derby field? First and foremost only three-year-old thoroughbreds are admitted. Second, they have to accumulate points during a long and arduous two and three year old racing campaign. Third the horse has to be nominated to the Triple Crown. Fourth and most importantly their connections (owner, trainer, and jockey) must feel that their horse is capable and healthy.

This is the first year that Kentucky Derby officials have put into play a point system. In years past the connections of the horses would accumulate graded stakes earnings. Under the graded stakes earnings system the top twenty would have a go at the Derby, notwithstanding any injury or defections from the Derby trail. Now horses must add together points from a list of sanctioned races by the Derby officials.

Bear in mind, a horses connections plot a path to the Kentucky Derby by selecting certain races in which their charge can accumulate sufficient points to land a gate spot.

Entrance to Churchill Downs

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Current Point System

Under the newly devised system there have been nineteen Derby prep races run during the two-year-old season into the three-year-old season. Most all have been graded stakes races with the exception of the Smarty Jones Stakes run on January 21, 2013. Points awarded were as follows:

1st Place 10 points

2nd Place 4 points.

3rd Place 2 points.

4th Place 1 point.


The Kentucky Derby aspirants then move in the first leg of the “Championship Series” There were nine of these super races, which include events like The Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, The Risen Star at Fair Grounds Race Course, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park. The points awarded in these races were as follows:

1st Place 50 points.

2nd Place 20 points.

3rd Place 10 points.

4th Place 5 points.


The second leg of the Championship Series were comprised of some of the premiere races of the winter / spring season. They include such fan favorites as the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course, the UAE Derby at Meydan Race Track in Dubai, UAE, the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, and the Bluegrass at Keeneland. Points accumulated at these fine races were as follows:

1st Place 100 points.

2nd Place 40 points.

3rd Place 20 points.

4th Place 10 points.


The late on the Kentucky Derby Trail races have been deemed the “Wild Card” races. Sometimes connections will enter an improving horse that has not yet gained sufficient points in a last ditch effort to obtain a derby spot. These races include the Lexington at Keeneland and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. Points awarded for these “Wild Card” races were as follows:

1st Place 20 points.

2nd Place 8 points.

3rd Place 4 points.

4th Place 2 points.

Most trainers who gather points will not run their horses in the Kentucky Derby on such little rest between races. There immediate concern is the health and happiness of their charges.

Kentucky Derby 139 rolls in

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Road to the Kentucky Derby

Early on Kentucky Derby 139 officials predicted that a horse would need about forty total points to secure a spot in the Derby. Due to defections and horses that have come off the Derby trail due to illness or injury, a horse might earn a post position with as little as twenty points.

The road to the Kentucky Derby is long and arduous for any young horse. It tests the fitness of the very best bred horses as well as the endurance of their connections. The new point system is expected to separate the wheat from the chafe to bring the very best three-year-old thoroughbreds to the Kentucky Derby starting gate. This years contestants are already coming into focus as Derby week unfurls.

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