How the Kentucky Derby Retains Year-Round Intrigue

For a race that lasts just two minutes, the Kentucky Derby attracts attention and intrigue throughout the year. This is true even among people who would not classify themselves as horseracing fans. Part of the reason for the attention is the realization of what horses and jockeys go through to qualify for the biggest race of the year.

Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby

The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a long one with two distinct sections. The first is the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that starts in September and ends in February. The second is the Kentucky Derby Championship Series that starts in March and concludes in April just a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. The second race includes the top competitors who have survived the earlier races for the chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

The 2018-2019 Kentucky Derby Prep Season included 19 races at racetracks across the country. Two of these prep races took place at Churchill Downs, the location of the Kentucky Derby since it first began in 1875. The Championship Series includes 16 races between February 16 and April 13. During the first set of races, winning jockeys receive 10 points while those coming in second receive four points and third-place finishers earn two points. The stakes are much higher for the Championship Series where first-place finishers take home 40 points, second-place finishers receive 20 points, and third-place finishers receive 10 points.

The 18 horses with the highest number of points from both sections of qualifying races receive an invitation to compete in the Kentucky Derby. The four coming in 19th to 22nd receive a status known as also eligible in case anyone who finished in the top 18 cannot participate in the derby for any reason.

The Kentucky Derby Goes International

Although horseracing is extremely popular in Japan, the government there doesn’t allow bidding on international races unless a Japanese horse happens to be competing in it. To cater to international crowds desiring to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby or any of its qualifying races, the management of Churchill Downs specifically created several qualifying races made up of Japanese horses to open the bidding in that country.

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby consists of four races separate from the America-35 set of three qualifying races. For 2018-2019, the events took place in November, December, February, and March at the Kawasaki Racecourse, Nakayama Racecourse, and twice at the Tokyo Racecourse.

The points are nominal in the first three races, but the final race called Fukuyru is worth 40 points for the winner and 16, eight, and four points for the second to fourth-place finishers. This point structure makes it more likely that a Japanese horse will earn enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby and open the betting pool to people in that country who follow the big race across the world from them. That was what the management of Churchill Downs hoped for all along.