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The Road To The Kentucky Derby - Part II

Updated on April 28, 2015

Run for the Roses

Churchill Downs

Although through the years there have been some changes to the race itself, Churchill Downs has been the racetrack for all of the 140 years. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. grandson of William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition had traveled to England and visited the “Derby”. The Derby has been one of the most prestigious horse race in Britain since 1780. He then went on to London in 1863 and viewed the Grand Prix de Paris. Upon his return to the United States he organized the Louisville Jockey Club, an organization with the sole design of raising money to build quality horse racing facilities. The first of which was built just outside the city on land donated by John and Henry Churchill. On May 17, 1875 with an estimated crowd of 10,000 people a field of fifteen three year old thoroughbred horses ran one and half mile and the birth of the Kentucky Derby had begun. A colt named Astrides, with jockey Oliver Lewis, and trainer Ansel Williams (future Hall of Famer), were the first winners. From 1894 through 1902 Churchill Downs was experiencing financial difficulties. Col. Matt Winn put together a group of investors and took over control of the track from the Louisville Jockey Club. Under Winn the Kentucky Derby then became the prominent stakes for three year old thoroughbreds.

Stretch Run

Stretch Run
Stretch Run

Phase One

In 2013 the qualifications for entry into the Kentucky Derby were simplified and broken down into two phases. The previous system had about 185 graded stakes races throughout the world, with different points earned for different finishes. The changes set up a total of 34 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces covering a distance of at least one mile. Phase one known as The Kentucky Derby Prep Season consists of 18 races that are typically run between September and February, following the two year old starters into their sophomore year of racing. Points are awarded to the top 4 finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

Leg 1 Phase II

Phase two known as The Kentucky Derby Championship Series is also broken down into two legs and a wild card race. The first leg consists of 8 races from late February through March. The top 4 finishers are awarded points 50-20-10-5 scale. The earnings a horse made in a graded stakes race around the world was the old qualifying system. Often horses traveled to the United States for the first time to run in the Kentucky Derby. With the specific selected 34 races, all of which are held in North America, the design is to increase the familiarity of each derby participant.

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Leg 2 Phase II & Wild Card

The second leg of phase two is the core preparation for the Kentucky Derby. Just like any Olympic athletic the training is focused around peaking at the right time. However with the Triple Crown you are beginning with the Kentucky Derby. The next seven races are run from the last weekend in March until the middle of April. Although there are seven races they only occur on three different days. This also has the only non-North American race. The top 4 finishers are awarded 100-40-20-10 scale. At the end of leg 2 of phase II is a wild card race. The final Lexington race returns back to the original 10-4-2-1 scale.

It All Goes Back To The Beginning

Current 2015 Rankings

International Star
Carpe Diem
American Pharoah
El Kabeir
Far Right
Firing Line
Danzig Moon
War Story
One Lucky Dane
Mr. Z
Ocho Ocho Ocho

Entry Fees

Through the above process the top 20 horses with the most points and 4 alternates have won a possible entry into the Kentucky Derby. The process is the same for a filly, gelding, or colt, however there is a weight allowance giving to the fillies. If there is a tie on the point scale the top earner in non-restricted stakes races will then be placed. A nomination entry fee is required to be paid for eligibility. For 2014, horses born in 2011 were eligible and the fee was $600 to be paid by the end of Jan 2014. However, a late entry fee of 6000.00 could have been paid by March 2014 to gain eligibility for nomination. In addition, owners were required to pay 25,000 to enter the Derby by May 2014 and an additional 25,000 to start. If there were less than 24 nominees entered, a horse could be supplemented for 200,000. The purse for the Kentucky Derby is two million dollars with the winner getting 1,425,000.00, and a chance at the Triple Crown bonus.

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Trivia Facts

First winner of the Kentucky Derby
Last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two year old
Sir Barton
First horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Gallant Fox
First Triple Crown recognized winner
Record holder for current race distance. Also first horse to run under 2:00 minutes(1:59.2/5 sec)
First filly to win the Kentucky Derby
Did You Know


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    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      4 years ago from Chicago Region

      This hub is super informative! Kentucky is famous for so many things, not least of which is its horses and horse racing. I recall reading that even queen Elizabeth kept horses in Kentucky at one time.

    • br1wfh profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Stanford 

      4 years ago from Pincher Creek, Alberta

      Thank you for your comment. My very first one.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      4 years ago from Orange, Texas

      This a great article and it looks like you really did some research on it. I enjoyed the breakdown on the qualifying. I knew the road to the Triple Crown was tough, but this proves it! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


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