Are Kentucky Derby and Oaks Points a Useful Selection Tool?

by Art Parker

In 2013 the criteria for being able to enter the Kentucky Derby was measured by graded stakes earnings accumulated during the career of a three year old. The idea was to award those that performed well in certain races known as “Derby Preps.” These races are the traditional big races in the spring when racing eyes are beginning to envision the first Saturday in May.

While this year has been quite a bit different due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Derby points system is still the measurement used to determine who gets into the gate on September 5, the Derby Day of 2020. The actual races may have changed a bit but the point system is still the determinant.

On the Derby Leaderboard the clear favorite for the race, Tiz the Law, has 372 points after embarrassing competition in several outings this year, most notably the Travers, which was his last start.

Churchill Downs Stock UpgradedThe second horse behind the leader is Authentic, one of two Bob Baffert charges. Authentic has 200 points which puts him slightly above half of what the Tiz the Law has accumulated. Comparing the point differential from first to second in prior years tells us that Tiz the Law is in a league of his own – at least based on points. This has been the difference in other years: zero, one, 13, 16, 18, 21, and 30. The number that looks so big, 30, was Derby winner’s California Chrome’s number over Vicar’s in Trouble in 2014. By the way, only one other point’s leader that has won the Derby was in 2013, when Orb romped home on a muddy track.

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Since California Chrome no point’s leader has won the Derby. The winner in 2019, Country House, was 17th in points in a Derby we all wish to forget, except the winner’s connections. In 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify was ninth sporting only his Santa Anita Derby win. In 2017 Always Dreaming was seventh in points. In 2016 Derby winner Nyquist was second in points to eventual great Gun Runner. When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015 he was fourth on the points list.

Should you select a Derby winner based upon on points? According to this, the answer is no, based on history. However, no other horse has held such a colossal amount of points over the competition.

The points leaderboard for the Kentucky Oaks looks similar. Swiss Skydiver has been on tour winning four major races in four different states. Her point total for the Kentucky Oaks is a whopping 450. In second is Speech with only 160 points. The difference of 290 points is hard to imagine. Like the Derby, let’s look at the point differential between the leader and second place. The only Oaks winner that led in points was Untapable in 2014. The point differential between first and second on the leaderboard has been, zero, zero, 6, 10, 19, 20, and Untapable’s 40.

In 2019 Serengeti Empress won the Oaks and was eighth on the points list. In 2018 Oaks winner Monomy Girl was second on the points list to Midnight Bisou. Abel Tasman won the Oaks in 2017 and was seventh on the points list. In 2016 Cathryn Sophia captured the Oaks while finishing sixth in the points race. Lovely Maria won the 2015 Oaks and was fifth in points. Before Untapable in 2013 Princess of Sylmar finished seventh on the points list and won the Oaks.

Like the points question asked earlier about the Derby, should you select an Oaks winner based upon on points? According to this, the answer is no, based on history. However, just like the point differential in the Derby, no other horse has held such a colossal amount of points over the competition in the Oaks.

A major consideration in the Oaks points this year is Bob Baffert’s filly, Gamine. The superstar is ninth on the points list but has raced in only one race with points – The Acorn at Belmont.

For a final, up to date listing of points for the Derby and the Oaks.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 17-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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