How to Qualify for the Kentucky Derby®

Posted by Carolynn Wilcox on Mon, Sep 14, 2015

Churchill Downs Starting Gate Kentucky Derby

We’re starting our countdown to the 2016 Kentucky Derby next spring – only 236 days left until Saturday, May 7th!  That’s a smaller number than 365, but still more than we’d prefer.  Ever wonder what the incredible equine specimens that make it to the Derby are doing in the year leading up to the “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”?  How are the contenders even selected?  Let’s take a look!

First off, if you’d like to race in the Kentucky Derby, you’ll need to have four hooves and stand about sixteen hands high.  Check?  Good!  Derby competitors are the cream of the crop when it comes to Thoroughbred sprinters and are widely regarded as the fittest, fastest horses on the planet.  The Kentucky Derby is exclusively for three-year-olds, meaning that each Thoroughbred yearling has a limited amount of time to train not only to accept a rider and understand basic commands, but mature into a finely-tuned racehorse who correctly responds to his jockey’s every shift in balance or tap of the crop.

Kentucky Derby

Before qualifying for the Derby, there are a series of stakes races that a Thoroughbred horse must compete in.  There are two types of stakes races: graded and ungraded.  The graded stakes races count toward qualifying for the Derby and are separated into three levels ranging from the least competitive tier, Grade 3, to the most challenging tier, Grade 1.  Grade 1 stakes are usually where you’ll see the top contenders, and these races typically offer more points to the top finishers than do the other stakes.

A few years ago, a new system was implemented that is based on a points system which narrowed the number of stakes races to 35 and shifted the focus away from the amount of money earned by each horse and toward the number of points each horse had achieved.  These stakes races are held around the world, and the top four placers in each race earn points toward qualifying for the Derby. 

Within the series of stakes races is another group of races known as the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series.”  These races occur over a period of ten weeks prior to the actual Derby, and the twenty horses who have earned the most points are granted a spot in the starting gate.  Though post positions at the starting gate are the preferred method used by many to determine how to place their wagers, in truth, each horse’s gate position in the past few years has depended on a random draw by its owner.  Prior to that, each owner drew a number that determined the order in which owners were able to select their gate – for example, the owner who draws 1 gets first pick, 2 gets to choose second and so on.  Because each horse is unique and possesses its own set of strengths and weaknesses, the preferred post really depends on the horse and which position it typically excels in. 

Once the gates open, all bets are off.  There have been too many upsets in Derby history to count!  As with any sport, a certain amount of luck is needed along with skill and athletic ability in order to place first.  Who will wear the roses in 2016?  Only time will tell!

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Reserve Your Spot at the 2016 Kentucky Derby®!

And they’re off!  The Road to the Kentucky Derby officially began last weekend with the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, where Cocked and Loaded claimed first place.  Check out the schedule below to follow all the action leading up to the first Saturday in May!

Experience the Kentucky Derby in all its glory and witness these magnificent creatures in their element!  Check out our selection of premium packages, where you’ll enjoy being out of the elements as you take in privileged views of the track and high-end amenities such as gourmet dining, open bars, outdoor viewing platforms, and private wagering stations.  Don’t wait until the last minute to try to find a room in Louisville on Derby weekend – add three nights of hotel accommodations to ensure the most stress-free experience possible!  Hotel options include top-notch locales such as The Galt House, Embassy Suites Louisville Downtown and The Seelbach.  Several packages have already sold out, so book today to secure your ultimate Kentucky Derby experience next spring!

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Road to the Kentucky Derby

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