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In an attempt to gain fans, Churchill Downs Incorporated is adopting a new points system for entry into the Kentucky Derby and will cut the number of qualifying stakes races considered for entry from 185 down to 36.

“Our primary driving motive is to create new fans for horse racing,” said CDI chair and CEO Bob Evans in a press release.

The new system will make it easier to understand the route thoroughbreds take to win one of the 20  spots in the Kentucky Derby. A poll of more than 300 sports fans nationwide showed 83 percent did not understand how a thoroughbred qualified to compete in the Kentucky Derby, the release said.

The new system will include two phases, each offering different points to the top four finishers of each race:

  • The “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” includes 19 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are typically run between late September and late February. The lone exception is England’s Royal Lodge, an international juvenile steppingstone that is carded at one mile on turf at Newmarket. These races traditionally serve as foundation-building races in advance of the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series.” Points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
  • The “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” is a three-part series of 17 marquee races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are traditionally run over a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May:
  • The first leg, which mostly includes races that feed into the major Kentucky Derby launching pads, includes eight events – the Risen Star (Fair Grounds), Fountain of Youth (Gulfstream Park), Gotham (Aqueduct), Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs), San Felipe (Santa Anita), Rebel (Oaklawn Park), Spiral (Turfway Park) and Sunland Derby (Sunland Park) – with a 50-20-10-5 point scale;
  • The second leg features seven stakes races – the Florida Derby (Gulfstream Park), UAE Derby (Meydan Racecourse), Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds), Wood Memorial (Aqueduct), Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita), Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park) and Blue Grass (Keeneland) – that are worth 100-40-20-10; and
  • The final leg is two “Wild Card” events, the Lexington (Keeneland) and The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (Churchill Downs), which offer some hope for horses to increase their point totals with a 20-8-4-2 scale.

(Information provided by CDI)

The top four horses in points earned will win earn one of the 20 Kentucky Derby spots. Up to 24 horses may enter the race and four horses can be listed as “also eligible” and would be ranked according to points earned. They could draw into the field if any of the horses are scratched in the days leading up to the race, the release said.

The fillies-only Kentucky Oaks will adopt a similar system.