The Road To The Kentucky Derby Heats Up Saturday

The Road To The Kentucky Derby is about to get serious. The prep races that lead to Churchill Downs on May 3 have been going on since September, but the first 17 of those races are mostly lower in prestige and are lower in the points horses can accumulate for Derby qualification. That all changes on Saturday.

Saturday starts the second half of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, and more specifically the third quarter. The point value of the designated races quintuples in value. Instead of getting points of 10-4-2-1 (for finishing 1st through 4th), the point awards now jump to 50-20-10-5. Later in the spring, the points will double one more time.

Thus, even though Tapiture is leading the way right now with 22 points, it can all change in a heartbeat. The horse led by national championship trainer Steve Asmussen has won twice, including last week. He’ll be off this week.

No trainer’s shadow looms larger over horse racing than Todd Pletcher and he’s got the #2 horse in the current standings. Havana has 14 points and has accumulate over $600,000 in purse money, more than twice that of Tapiture. With a bankroll like that, my guess is that ownership will live with sitting in second in the standings.

Cairo Prince and Honor Code are tied with Havana, with Tamarando and Middle Hawk having 12 points. Overall, 16 horses have at least 10 points.

Ultimately, whose first or second or wherever doesn’t really matter. Twenty horses will break from the starting gate at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby is notorious for being kind to the longshots.

Furthermore, the early favorites of the prep season don’t always make it to the post in early May, much less win.  When I was working back in the handicapping rackets from 2008-11, one of the mail pieces that was sent out would proclaim that finding the Derby winner was about finding the “peaking horse.” Our company never actually found such a horse and the mail piece was almost exclusively B.S., but this constituted the seed of truth.

All of which means that while Tapiture is the horse to keep an eye on, it’s even more foolish to anoint him now than it is to anoint a college basketball team as a sure national champion in February. The next leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series starts Saturday, with big races in Louisiana and Florida. Read more about Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes and the Fountain Of Youth Stakes.