Will Take Charge and Texas Bling earned points in Smarty Jones Stakes, part of the first round of the Road to the Kentucky Derby (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
Two months from now, the Kentucky Derby will be a part of racing history and all of the projections, opinions and predictions will be answered by the newest horse to be draped in a garland of roses on the first Saturday in May.
We’ll also know much more about the merits or drawbacks of the new point system that determines the 20 starters in the Run for the Roses.
Six more weekends of preps will fill in much of the blanks about the new format, but so far there some noticeable differences between last year’s model and this year’s and how the differences are affecting several of the hopefuls.
To put it in the proper perspective, here’s the current Top 20 with the new point system - one that places a premium on performances in the late February to mid-April preps:
1. Will Take Charge 61 points; 2. Vyjack 50; 3. Orb 50; 4. Verrazano 50; 5. Hear the Ghost 50; 6. Oxbow 36; 7. Flashback 30; 8. Goldencents 29; 9. Shanghai Bobby 24; 10. Java’s War 22; 11. Den’s Legacy 20; 12. Falling Sky 20; 13. West Hills Giant 20; 14. Code West 20; 15. Dynamic Sky 13; 16. Speak Logistics 11; 17. Itsmyluckyday 10; 18. Overanalyze 10; 19. Uncaptured 10; 20. Super Ninety Nine 10.
Considering that the remaining schedule of preps features two races worth 50 points to the winner and seven awarding 100 points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up, the top five horses, all of whom have 50 points, are safe bets to crack the Top 20 regardless of what happens in the weeks ahead. Oxbow, 6th with 36 points, also seems safe. Flashback and Goldencents are also well-positioned, barring complete chaos in the final six weeks.
The rest will probably need a solid performance in the remaining races to punch their ticket to Louisville.
Now here’s the Top 20 under last year’s system which relied on graded stakes earnings:
1. Shanghai Bobby $1,680,000; 2. Goldencents $758,000; 3. He’s Had Enough $442,000; 4. Will Take Charge $362,971; 5. Vyjack $360,000; 6. Oxbow $316,000; 7. Overanalyze $308,000; 8. Den’s Legacy $285,000; 9. Itsmyluckyday $250,000; 10. Capo Bastone $246,000; 11. Orb $240,000; 12. Fortify $225,000; 13. Super Ninety Nine $218,000; 14. Verrazano $210,000; 15. Power Broker $190,000; 16. Hear the Ghost $180,000; 17. Flashback $180,000; 18. Uncaptured $176,409; 19. Falling Sky $155,000; 20. Dynamic Sky $137,500.
SHANGHAI BOBBY & HE'S HAD ENOUGH BATTLE IN THE BREEDERS CUP JUVENILE
This list includes just the 52 horses that have compiled points and are still considered to be on the Derby Trail.
Four horses included in the current Top 20 would not be listed under last year’s rules: Java’s War, West Hill Giant, Code West, and Speak Logistics. Since each of them is also on shaky ground this year, there’s no real controversy there.
The biggest difference involves who should feel safe. While last year’s cutoff was $184,708 in graded stakes earnings, the two previous years saw a final cutoff of $120,000 and $218,750.
Under that criteria, the horses with $200,000 in earnings would be fairly safe – which means horses like Shanghai Bobby, He’s Had Enough, Overanalyze, Den’s Legacy, Itsmyluckyday, Capo Bastone, Super Ninety Nine and Fortify could train until Derby Day and have a spot in the starting gate waiting for them.
On a different note, top contenders Revolutionary and Normandy Invasion would be on the outside looking both this year and in 2012. Revolutionary, sixth in the latest America’s Best Racing poll, is 22nd on a tiebreaker this year with 10 points and has just $120,000 in graded stakes earnings. Normandy Invasion, 12th in the poll, has only four points – good for 32nd in the point standings – and stakes earnings of just $58,000. Both horses will need a top two finish in their next race to stay on the Derby Trail. A third – even by two noses – may not be enough, especially for Normandy Invasion.
Clearly the difference in the point standings amounts to the value of when horses shine in a prep. Success in December does not come with the same reward as it does in early April.
How it all shakes out and whether the changes were for the better or worse remains to be seen, but for now it promises to be a rather wild scramble just to get into the Derby – no less win it.