The Kentucky Derby is known as the greatest two minutes in sports, but the journey to get there takes much longer. There’s an eight-month precursor where thoroughbreds collect points in various races in order to qualify for the Run for the Roses in May. The system is called the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

 

Road to the Kentucky Derby

The road to the Kentucky Derby is split into two phases: the Kentucky Derby Prep Season and the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. Everything starts with the prep season, which takes place between September and late February. The top four finishers in each prep season race are awarded points based on their result. 10 points are allotted to first place, four to second, two to third and one to fourth. There’s one exception in the point system during the prep stage: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It awards points on a 20-8-4-2 scale.

Once we move into the championship series, the point values increase. In the early stages (the minor prep races), the scale is 50-20-10-5. Once we move into the major prep races, usually Grade I, the scale jumps to 100-40-20-10. Lastly, there are a couple of wild card races where the scale is 10-4-2-1.

 

Who Qualifies?

The top 19 horses in the points standings will earn an invitation to the Kentucky Derby. A 20th spot is now offered to a horse from Japan. If any of the top horses don’t enter the Run for the Roses or are scratched, their position is offered to the next ranked horse on the list. Essentially, horses that performed best on the prep trail (and collected the most points) will earn a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby.

This point system was created in 2012 because the majority of people didn’t understand how the horses qualified. With a point system, it’s clear, so fans can track horses throughout the season. And with the prep season and championship series, it’s similar to having a regular season and a postseason – something sports fans are familiar with.

 

2017 Road to the Kentucky Derby

This year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby has been full of ups and downs. Girvin has amassed the most points with 150. He won the Risen Star (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2). In second place is Gormley, a John Shirreffs-trained thoroughbred, with 125 points. He won the Frontrunner Stakes (G1), Sham Stakes (G3) and the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and also collected a few points with a fourth-place finish in the San Felipe (G2). Irish War Cry is in third with 110 points. The bulk of his points have come from wins at the Wood Memorial (G2) and Holy Bull Stakes (G2). Irap (108) and Always Dreaming (100) wrap up the top five.