In the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby every year, there seems to be some intense discussion about the flaws inherent in the system of determining which horses will participate and which ones will not. Right now, the Kentucky Derby is made of those horses which have earned the most money in graded stakes races in their careers. If one of the top twenty decides not to run for the roses, then the list simply extends one spot. I certainly think this system is better than having some ridiculous committee try to determine the best twenty and have only those horses eligible to compete, like the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Heaven knows, the world doesn't need any more committees. However, can you tweak the system to ensure that horses that don't belong in the Derby like Backtalk and Homeboykris, who were in strictly because of money they earned as two-year-olds, don't make it into the race?
I can think of two solutions right off the top of my head to alleviate the problem and streamline the process. First of all, is there really any need to have twenty horses in any race? This is not like the big races overseas with their wide, sweeping courses that allow all kinds of room to maneuver around the track. Churchill Downs is almost like any other racetrack in the country and really, what is the entertainment value in having twenty horses stampede around in such tight quarters not to mention the safety concerns involved for both horses and jockeys? The Kentucky Oaks is limited to fourteen starters and, more often than not, it is quite simply an exquisite race that provides just as much excitement and thrills as the Derby does. A perfect case in point is this year's win by Blind Luck. So far in 2010, I cannot think of a better big race that has been run. Blind Luck and Evening Jewel were separated by the slimmest of margins at the end. You say you want ridiculous longshots that can win. Take Lemons Forever, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Oaks. She scored at 47-1 from post #14 and paid $96.20 and keyed a trifecta of more than $12,000. So, fourteen horse fields provide tremendous longshots just like a twenty horse field provides. I would even be willing to extend the field out to sixteen, which I think can still be managed safely with far less traffic and you are even giving more horses a fair chance to win.
Whatever the field size (fourteen, sixteen, twenty), I think the other suggestion I make might also help the "having the best field possible argument". Why not only count the graded stakes earnings from the Breeders' Cup on? For those of you that think this lessens the relevance of races like the Champagne, Sanford, Hopeful, Del Mar Futurity, keep in mind that the horses that won these races did not hit the board on Saturday and with the exception of Lookin At Lucky and the Del Mar Futurity, the horses that won these races are exactly the horses that many were complaining about their being in the field. Yes, I know Super Saver ran 4th in the Champagne, but he also won the Kentucky Jockey Club three weeks after the BC and he hit the board in both graded efforts in 2010. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile seems a logical starting point to me to start working towards the Derby. It almost makes the two-year-old graded races a prep season for the prep season. It also helps weed out those horses that simply do not belong.
While I am sure that some will agree with me and others will think I am a lunatic, I look at it like this, people I know either agree with me or consider me crazy every day, it's nothing new to me.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!