Lady and The Track | September 26, 2021

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Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Points: What’s It All About?

Getting To The Point: An Analysis Of The 2019 Kentucky Derby And Oaks Leaderboards

By Augusta Hosmer

We are now just two weeks away from the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby (GI). The Lexington Stakes (GIII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) last weekend finalized the list of probable contenders for this year’s Run for the Roses and everyone is coming down with Derby fever. Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) winner Tacitus leads the field with 150 points, and currently the Japanese invader Master Fencer rounds out the top 20, with a few sitting on the bubble waiting for defections. Only 20 horses can run in the Derby, so everyone is wondering, will the current point total leaders be the final field?

The Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks points systems used to determine the Derby and Oaks fields weren’t always in place. Before they were developed in 2013, horses were deemed eligible for the Derby based on graded stakes earnings. The points system allowed for a more fine-tuned approach to selecting a strong Derby field, as nine out of 10 of the last Kentucky Derby winners placed first or second in one of the prep races now assigned a point value.

But what does history tell us about point rankings and who actually wins the Derby? Only one-third of the horses who held rank one on the points leaderboard since its inception have gone on to win the Derby — Orb in 2013 and California Chrome in 2014. Otherwise the winners have come from further down on the list, though never below the top 10, including Triple Crown winner Justify (rank 9), Always Dreaming (rank 7), Nyquist (rank 2) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (rank 4).

Over the next two weeks, jockey assignments will be finalized, the horses will be put through their final drills under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs and everyone slects their own “Derby Horse.” Where is yours on this list?

  1. Tacitus- 150 points
  2. Omaha Beach- 137.5 points
  3. Vekoma- 110 points
  4. Plus Que Parfait- 104 points
  5. Roadster- 100 points
  6. By My Standards- 100 points
  7. Maximum Security- 100 points
  8. Game Winner- 85 points
  9. Code of Honor- 74 points
  10. Haikal- 70 points
  11. Improbable- 65 points
  12. War of Will- 60 points
  13. Long Range Toddy- 53.5 points
  14. Tax- 52 points
  15. Cutting Humor- 50 points
  16. Win Win Win- 50 points
  17. Country House- 50 points
  18. Gray Magician- 41 points
  19. Spinoff- 40 points
  20. Master Fencer (JPN)- 19 points*
  21. Bodexpress- 40 points
  22. Signalman- 38 points
  23. Anothertwistafate- 38 points
  24. Sueno- 32 points
  25. Bourbon War- 31 points
  26. Instagrand- 30 points
  27. Mucho Gusto- 24 points
  28. Knicks Go- 20 points
  29. Owendale- 20 points
  30. Outshine- 20 points

As of 2017, one Derby invitation is extended each year a horse with the most points accumulated in a separate sequence of four races from America’s 35-race Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Only one invitation to compete in the Kentucky Derby is extended and preference is given to the horses with the most points in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Master Fencer finished fourth in Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby points with 19, but the top three finishers – Der Flug (40 points), Oval Ace (30) and Nova Lenda (20) – are not Triple Crown nominated and declined the invitation.

Two horses Japanese-based have run in the Kentucky Derby – Ski Captain, who was 14th in 1995; and Lani, who was ninth in 2016.

Lillies For The Fillies

Meanwhile, everyone’s eyes will be on the a group of sophomore fillies who have made their own way toward Churchill Downs for the first weekend in May. Who will wear the garland of lilies after racing the nine furlongs of the Kentucky Oaks (GI)? And Unlike the Derby, this field is limited to 14 horses:

  1. Bellafina- 132 points
  2. Champagne Anyone- 113 points
  3. Street Band- 105 points
  4. Lady Apple- 100 points
  5. Out for a Spin- 100 points
  6. Liora- 71 points
  7. Restless Rider- 62 points
  8. Serengeti Empress- 60 points
  9. Motion Emotion- 60 points
  10. Jaywalk- 55 points
  11. Chocolate Kisses- 51 points
  12. Jeltrin- 51 points
  13. Positive Spirit- 50 points
  14. Flor de La Mar- 40 points
  15. Cookie Dough- 40 points
  16. Dunbar Road- 40 points
  17. Eres Tu- 24 points
  18. Brill- 22 points
  19. Sweet Diane- 22 points
  20. Oxy lady- 21 points
  21. Point of Honor- 20 points
  22. Naughty Joker- 20 points
  23. Bizwhaks- 20 points
  24. Orra Moor- 20 points
  25. Off Topic- 20 points

The Oaks has a similar points history to the Derby, with only two horses in the top two rankings taking home a win: Monomoy Girl in 2018 (rank 2), and Untapable in 2014 (rank 1). The others came from further down the list, but, again, not below the top 10: Princess of Sylmar, 2013 (rank 7); Lovely Maria, 2015 (rank 5); Cathryn Sophia, 2016 (rank 6); and Abel Tasman, 2017 (rank 7).

Will this year’s Derby and Oaks continue the tradition of winners from the top half of the 20- and 14-horse fields, or will the unexpected twists and turns of the 2019 Derby Trail continue through race day and bring a lower-ranked champion to the forefront for the first time?