By Veselina Dzhingarova
2017 marks the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. This race with a $2 million guaranteed purse is scheduled for Saturday, May 6, 2017 at the iconic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Often referred to as “the most exciting two-minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby doesn’t come together that quickly.
The qualification process for this formidable race takes many months and is an exciting force to follow. The few qualified runners who will meet at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May are those who prevail on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
How Horses Qualify for the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is a one and quarter mile Grade I stakes race for Thoroughbreds that are 3-years old. This race is the first leg of the Triple Crown races and is limited to just 20 qualifying horses.
The 2017 Road to the Kentucky Derby is composed of 35 races, 19 of which are Prep Season races with the remaining 16 being Championship Season races. Points are assigned to the top four finishers in each race, with earnings used as a tie-breaker. The points totals for the races vary, but the Championship Series races have much higher points values than the earlier prep races.
Major Races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby
The races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby began as far back as September and will continue through mid-April at tracks throughout the United States. There are also a few select races overseas, such as in Tokyo and the UAE.
We are still in Prep season through mid-February, so races for the next 2-3 weeks will award just 10 points to the winner with purses that range from $150,000-$400,000. The largest purse remaining in this series is from the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4, at Gulfstream Park in Florida, which is a 1-mile Grade II event with a $400,000 purse.
The Championship Series kicks off on Feb. 25 with the Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds Race Course in New Orleans. Big races to watch in the first leg of the Championship series include the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in Queens with a $500,000 purse and the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, with a $700,000 purse.
Early Contenders and Favorites for the 2017 Kentucky Derby
Since the big-points races won’t start for another three weeks, it’s still early in the qualifying races. However, there are several horses that are worth putting on your watch list heading into the Championship series.
One horse to keep in your sights is Kentucky Derby favorite Classic Empire. The son of Pioneer of the Nile, Classic Empire won four of five races in 2016. In the Road to the Kentucky Derby, he won the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile back-to-back, placing him at the top of the standings with both points and earnings.
Other early contenders to watch include Gormley, who has also won two races and is now second in the points standing, and Practical Joke, who is third place in points standings but second place in overall earnings.
As the Championship series approaches, the stakes increase for many of these upcoming races. The battle for the chance to “Run for the Roses” on May 6th could be just as exciting as the final race itself.