A good starting point

April, 30, 2013

After four months of preps, the field for the Kentucky Derby has finally fallen into place and much of the worry about that process seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Year 1 of the new Road to the Kentucky Derby point system to determine the Derby field turned out to have no real impact at all. The 20th and final starter in the opening leg of the Triple Crown figures to be Fear the Kitten, who has done little to live up to his intimidating name and couldn't even crack double digits in points.

Fear the Kitten was fifth in his last race, the Blue Grass Stakes, and has all of six points from his efforts in Derby preps. He received four points for finishing second in the Southwest Stakes in mid-February and another two from a third-place finish in the Lecomte before that.

Sounds like a 50-1 shot, doesn't it?

In the end, after months of focusing on a points chase and who might be excluded from the Run for the Roses, it turned out that simply rounding up 20 prospective starters was a difficult enough chore in the days leading up to the Derby.

Points? Like "stinkin' badges," who needs them when so many trainers opted for discretion over prime seating on Derby Day.

So was the point system a success?

Clearly, it wasn't a mistake and there were some benefits from it.

By concentrating the points on two-turn route races, it removed the possibility of a sprinter like Trinniberg running in the race and skewing the fractions.

It also accounted for a field that, for the most part, is filled with horses coming off a good effort in a major prep.

The point system also closed the doors on fillies, forcing them to run against colts at some point to crack the Top 20. In this particular year, that format worked against Dreaming of Julia, who ran faster than possible Run for the Roses favorite Orb on Florida Derby Day, but asking fillies to test males at least once before the Derby seems a fair requirement.

After all, the last two fillies to win the Derby -- Winning Colors (1988) and Genuine Risk (1980) -- both had their final preps against the boys.

Some changes?

The Illinois Derby, with its $750,000 purse, deserves a little more love and should be included in the point system rather than serve as a Preakness prep.

And the Breeders' Cup Juvenile should be enhanced in the point system. A race as important as the Juvenile deserves a special status, such as awarding 50 points to the winner, so that at least one 2-year-old can be hailed as Kentucky Derby material heading into his sophomore year.

Thoughts that an unworthy Juvenile winner might bump a more deserving starter proved unwarranted when the top two Juvenile finishers were taken off the Derby trail after disappointing efforts.

In the end, the connections of those horses did not subject them to a test they could not pass, and down the road it's reasonable to believe the trainers of other equally valuable colts will not subject them to challenges they cannot meet at age 3.

So give the Juvenile a guaranteed starting spot like the Louisiana Derby. The normal weeding-out process will keep that horse away from Louisville if he doesn't belong there.

It's at least a point to consider after a long and winding road to the Kentucky Derby.

• 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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