Having been hit with notable late scratches to the first leg of the Triple Crown in recent years, Churchill Downs announced Friday it would now permit four also-eligible entrants to the Kentucky Derby and the $1 million guaranteed Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, beginning with the respective 138th runnings of those races in 2012.
For the first time in the history of those races, the new system allows as many as four horses to remain eligible to compete in each race beyond the official time of entry and one or more of the “also eligible” horses could be allowed to run in their respective race if members of the original fields for their races scratch from the race within a specified period of time. A maximum of 20 horses is allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby, the 1 ¼-mile race for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds conducted each year on the first Saturday in May, while the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby’s 1 1/8-mile counterpart for fillies run on the eve of the Derby, is limited to 14 starters.
This year saw reigning juvenile champion Uncle Mo scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby due to what was later diagnosed as a rare liver ailment. Sway Away, second in the Grade II Best Pal and San Vicente Stakes, would have been the first horse in under the new rules although eventual Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice was also among the horses left out of this year’s oversubscribed race.
In 2009, morning-line favorite I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby due to filling in his ankle.
Entries for the Kentucky Derby are due the Wednesday before the race, while Oaks entries are taken on the Tuesday before its annual Friday renewal. Also-eligible horses would be permitted to compete in the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks if there are scratches from either race prior to their shared official “scratch time” of 9 a.m. (Eastern) on Friday, Kentucky Oaks Day. That time is the opening of wagering on the Kentucky Oaks Day racing program and the beginning of preliminary betting on the Kentucky Derby.
In the event of a scratch or scratches from either race, preference among also-eligible entrants would be determined under the current eligibility system for the Derby and Oaks. Horses with the highest total earnings in graded stakes races would “draw-in” to the field for their respective race. If the total entrants for either of those races should exceed the maximum field size plus four, the four horses listed as also-eligible entrants would be determined by the same system.
“There has been significant discussion in recent years regarding also-eligible entrants for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, especially in light of the late scratches of Derby favorites I Want Revenge in 2009 and Uncle Mo from this year’s running,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Our concerns have always focused on preliminary wagering on the Kentucky Derby permitted during our Kentucky Oaks Day racing program, including refunds of wagers on scratched Derby horses and potential confusion during those two special days among our massive crowds of bettors.
“Also-eligible horses for Oaks will have nearly three days of opportunity to get into their race, while the Derby’s window for also-eligible entrants to participate is just under 48 hours. We feel strongly that the deadline for also-eligible horses to join the Derby field must be set before preliminary wagering on the race begins. Despite the more limited window for also-eligible horses for the Derby, this system provides owners and trainers an opportunity to keep their Derby dreams alive that has never existed before.”
Equibase past performances for also-eligible horses for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks will appear in racing programs along with the original fields for the two races. As many as four also-eligible horses outside of the Kentucky Derby’s 20-horse field would be listed, in order of preference, with program numbers 21, 22, 23 and 24. Kentucky Oaks also-eligible fillies would be numbered between 15 and 18, also in order of preference.
In the event of a scratch from either the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks fields, horses in post positions outside of the scratched horses would move in a spot and the also-eligible horse would then occupy the outermost position in the starting gate. Also-eligible entrants are not required to compete in either race in the event of a scratch.