Apparently they don't get the 'point'

February, 3, 2013
There were a few 3-year-old stakes this weekend that propelled several horses along the road to the Kentucky Derby.

The Withers at Aqueduct, Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita each carried a purse of $200,000, but one of them packed a lot more controversy than the others.

Under the new point system for determining starting spots in the Run for the Roses, each race handed out 10-4-2-1 points to the top four finishers, a format that will remain in place until the weekend of Feb. 23 ushers in an enhanced 50-20-10-5 set-up. That will be followed by a series of 100-40-20-10 races that will guarantee the winners of those seven preps a spot in the Derby.

And that's one tumultuous aspect of the new format that was revisited thanks to the Robert B. Lewis.

Under the current point system, there's no real reason to even mention the Kentucky Derby until late February since the skewered point system gives the winners of the first 19 stakes in the series such a meager head-start.

The 10 points offered to the winners of the 19 races in the current "Kentucky Derby Prep Season" has been in place since it started last year with 10 2-year-old stakes. That means a win in the $2 million, Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile was worth as much as a win in the Robert B. Lewis -- that's the Robert B. Lewis with its four-horse field.

It's pretty clear to see the problem. You win the definitive 2-year-old race of the year, you earn acclaim as the "winter book favorite" for the Kentucky Derby and yet it gets you no closer to Louisville than a win over three rivals on the first Saturday in February.

It doesn't make much sense, though the Robert B. Lewis actually wound up providing fodder for supporters on both sides of the issue.

The horse that finished third in the Lewis was He's Had Enough, who might have won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile had he run a little more than a head faster. Yet on this February day, the BC Juvenile runner-up finished some 6 3/4 lengths behind the victorious Flashback, who looks the part of a much more legitimate Derby prospect.

In that regard, the Robert B. Lewis -- as well as He's Had Enough's nine-length loss in the Cash Call Futurity in December and BC Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby's runner-up finish in the Holy Bull -- advanced the argument that 2-year-old form is no longer as telling as it used to be for the Triple Crown. The fact that only one of the first 28 winners of the BC Juvenile winner went on to capture the Run for the Roses adds even more punch to the argument.

Yet as logical as that might seem, even in a fast-paced digital world there should still be a place for tradition. Rewarding the BC Juvenile winner also makes sense from a marketing standpoint.

Under the current point system, there's no real reason to even mention the Kentucky Derby until late February since the skewered point system gives the winners of the first 19 stakes in the series such a meager head-start.

Giving the BC Juvenile a 100-40-20-10 structure allows the media and fans a reason to link the race -- and the 2-year-old stakes leading up to it -- to the Derby and focus attention on the Triple Crown for a longer period.

More importantly, the enhanced importance of the BC Juvenile would not have a major impact on the shape of the field. Under the old format, which established the field based on graded stakes earnings, the BC Juvenile was basically an automatic qualifier for the Derby. Yet of the 12 BC Juvenile winners from 2011 to 2000, less than half of them (5) ran in the Derby.

Rest assured the rigors of life on the Triple Crown will make sure an elevated point status for the BC Juvenile will not dilute the Kentucky Derby field.

Besides, equality between the BC Juvenile and the Robert B. Lewis is one thing. Allowing the Derby Trial -- a mile stakes a week before the Run for the Roses -- to have a value of 20-8-4-2 is ludicrous. Perhaps if this was 1960, it might make sense. But in this day and era it's illogical at best.

Coincidentally, the Derby Trial will be contested on opening day at Churchill Dows, which reflects the mind-set of the host track. Our race is worth twice as much as the BC Juvenile.


That alone should prove some people just don't get the "point."

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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