SBD/June 14, 2012/Events and Attractions

Churchill Downs Creates Points System To Determine Kentucky Derby Field

Churchill Downs thinks new structure will help develop a regular season and playoffs
In one of the “most significant changes in the Kentucky Derby’s 139-year history, Churchill Downs will determine the 20-horse field for the 2013 event through a system in which points will be accrued in selected prep races,” according to Jennie Rees of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL. The "Road to the Kentucky Derby" begins this fall and is “intended to build advance fan interest for the Derby on May 4.” Churchill Downs management thinks the new structure “organizes the preps into the equivalent of a regular season and playoffs, to which fans can relate.” Track President T. Kevin Flanery said, "People understand the Derby is the Super Bowl of racing, but they don't understand what the 'league' structure is and what the series is to get there.” Rees notes the plan calls “for 36 races, as opposed to about 185 races worldwide that counted toward Derby selection under the previous arrangement.” Churchill Downs Inc. Chair & CEO Robert Evans said the reason for the change is to see "if we can create some new fans for racing, that's the primary driving motive.” He added, "There are 40,000-something races in the U.S. We're not going to go out and make all of those immediately popular to the 300 million people who live here. Let's start small."

CH-CH-CHANGES: NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller, whose network broadcasts the Triple Crown, called the change "inspired." Miller said, “We think this concept makes the sport even stronger. It's not too dissimilar to the way the U.S. determines its Ryder Cup team. It's easy for fans to follow.” He added, "It builds the storylines, the matchups. Now you'll have these great horses who have already raced against each other before you get to Churchill Downs and the Preakness. You'll have the rivalries built in." Flanery said, "We looked at every sport that uses points, leagues. We looked very closely at the things they did right and the things we thought maybe didn't work so well. I guess the key message we got out of all of that was try to keep it simple." Churchill management said that its marketing survey showed that “83% of sports fans did not understand what horses must do to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.” Rees notes the prep season will run from “late September to February." Horses in the designated 36 races will be awarded points based on finish: Ten points to winner; 4 points for 2nd place, 2 points for 3rd; 1 point for fourth. The points will increase for the top four horses that finish during the “Championship Season,” which runs late February to late April. Rees notes, “No race less than a mile in distance will be part of the Derby point system,” and if two or more horses “have the same number of points; the tiebreaker becomes earnings in nonrestricted stakes races.” No races “restricted to fillies will generate Derby points” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 6/14). Rees' story was also run as a USA TODAY Sports Cover story (THE DAILY).

TWITTER REAX: The news garnered some reaction on Twitter, and although some people were disappointed in which races were left out of the points system, the overall response was positive. Lane Gold, horse racing contributor for the N.Y. Times and ESPN, wrote on Twitter, “It is great that Churchill ditched the Grade Stakes earnings for a points system but will still be hard to explain to a novice how it works.” The Paulick Report's Ray Paulick tweeted, “Big ups to CDI execs for coming up with new qualifying points system for #KyDerby. Old Graded Stakes $$$ qualifier no longer made sense.”
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