Churchill Downs on Thursday unveiled the points schedule for eligibility to the 2018 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), with several new initiatives for the upcoming year.
One year after establishing a separate “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby,” now another path has been carved out as the “European Road to the Kentucky Derby.” As with the Japanese hopefuls, European-based horses will be competing in their own set of prep races, with a points leaderboard separate and distinct from the overall points leaderboard.
Just one Derby berth is up for grabs on the European path, again mirroring the Japan Road. The top points-earner will receive an invitation, and if declined, the second on the leaderboard gets the invite, and so on down to the third and fourth. But the offer extends only to the top four points scorers on the European and Japanese leaderboards.
All seven of the European points races will be held over a mile, the first four on turf this fall and the final three on all-weather in March 2018.
“Early racing success is compensated in our series but we prefer to emphasize recent form for qualification to the Kentucky Derby, and the creation of this new path provides just that,” said Mike Ziegler, executive director of racing for Churchill Downs Inc.
The Japan Road itself has been augmented by the addition of the December 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, making for three races on its schedule. The one-mile event at Kawasaki is positioned between the other two, November’s Cattleya Sho and the Hyacinth in February. Unlike those JRA (Japan Racing Association) races, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun is held under the auspices of the NAR (National Association of Racing), but horses from both jurisdictions can square off.
“It is with great pleasure to receive the news that our featured two-year-old race, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, will be included in the ‘Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby,’ a series of races which provides an entry to the Kentucky Derby for a horse from Japan,” said Masanobu Nakajima, President of Kanagawa Prefecture Kawasaki Racing Association.
“The Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun is a domestic exchange race in which both JRA and NAR horses can run and it is a race to decide the champion two-year-old dirt horse in Japan.
“I am sure that with the inclusion of our race in this series, it opens the door for horses on the NAR circuit not only to the Kentucky Derby but also to the world. It is my earnest wish for this race to be a high-profile race and for our racing association to further promote NAR racing.”
“Churchill Downs is thrilled to build upon our partnership with the JRA and welcome the NAR into this appealing series,” Ziegler said. “Japan is a burgeoning market with considerable international interest, and we’re keen to provide a useful and meaningful path to the Kentucky Derby for their world-class competitors and horsemen.”
As ever, international runners still have the option of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby via Dubai. The UAE Derby (G2) remains a fixture on the main points list, worth 100 points to the winner.
If the top European or Japanese pointsgetter also qualifies in Dubai (or elsewhere through America’s 36-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series), Churchill reports that the invite will be extended to the next eligible horse on the European and Japanese leaderboards. To break ties among horses with equal points totals, Churchill will look first to earnings in non-restricted stakes races, then go to lifetime earnings.
There were a couple of changes to the U.S. points schedule. Remington Park’s Springboard Mile, staged on December 17, has been added during the “prep season” of races carrying points to the top four on a 10-4-2-1 sliding scale.
“We’re delighted to welcome the Springboard Mile into the fold,” Ziegler said. “It has been a meaningful race for Midwest two-year-olds in recent years, including Will Take Charge, the eventual three-year-old champion of 2013. Remington Park officials have been enthusiastic to have their race included in our series, and their commitment was reaffirmed when they increased the purse by $100,000 to give it shared status as the richest race of Remington Park’s season.”
And the points were adjusted for two races already on the schedule. The Spiral (G3) at Turfway Park (previously 50-20-10-5) was reduced to a 20-8-4-2 basis, while the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland (previously 10-4-2-1) is now doubled to 20-8-4-2.
“We want to properly reward the winners of both races but simultaneously confirm that the victors have had past or future successes to ensure a spot in the Derby field,” Ziegler said of the points modification.
In one update to the Kentucky Oaks schedule, the February 10 Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs has been added as a points race during the prep season worth 10-4-2-1.
Here are the 2018 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points schedules: