by Jeremy Plonk
April 8, 2019
Give credit to the Kentucky Derby points system on a few matters, none bigger than the two main reasons it was created: One, to drum up free promotional talk months in advance of the race; and two, for the home track to control the qualifying process vs. the prep circuits’ former power with purse earnings. But what the system never really has been able to deliver was deadline excitement.
With just the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland left for points accumulation, we’ve got ourselves a wildcard weekend of sorts in the playoff chase. The gold standard has been 30 points for the cut-off in previous years, but even those with 40 right show should be nervous. With Japan’s Master Fencer accepted an invitation for the 20th spot that leaves 19 for the Americans and the current bubble is at 37.5 points.
Who’s on the bubble? Omaha Beach, the horse I have currently ranked No. 1 in Countdown to the Crown and winner of the G2 Rebel over champion Game Winner. He’s running as scheduled in the Arkansas Derby along with a host of other horses who have a lot on the line. Should he run in the Top-4 he’ll be safely in the lineup.
Given how many points are available this weekend and who’s running for them, I’m projecting that Gray Magician at 41 points (currently No. 15) has a decent chance of remaining above the cut-off, but you’ll read below that you’re not really safe unless you’re at the 50-point line right now. The 40-point horses like Spinoff and Bodexpress, as well as Signalman at 38 could be in legitimate jeopardy. They’re all finished running and awaiting in the clubhouse, so to speak.
The Arkansas Derby offers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale. Looking at those numbers, the probable starters and what they’ve got in their points-banks, here are the potential scenarios for making the Derby field:
LONG RANGE TODDY Safe Already
OMAHA BEACH Must Finish Top-4
IMPROBABLE Must Finish Top-3
COUNTRY HOUSE Must Finish Top-3
GALILEAN Must Finish Top-
GRAY ATTEMPT Must Finish Top-
ROILAND Must Finish Top-
All Others Must Win
The Lexington Stakes appears less chaotic and in most any scenario could produce only a single starter. Its 20-8-4-2 points distribution could possibly put Anothertwistafate into the Derby with a second-place finish, but he’d be at 38 and would need attrition among the contenders 3 weeks out. That happens some years, so it’s not impossible for him at 38, but securing the winner’s share of 20 and advancing to 50 points would be what the Sunland Derby runner-up has to aim for on Saturday. The other Lexington hopeful within earshot on points is Sueno, who comes in with 28. Again, second could bring him to 36 and be close to the cut-off with some help. But, he, too, must come to Keeneland with intentions of victory.
So, of all the horses running Saturday between the Arkansas Derby and Lexington, only Long Range Toddy can breathe easy. Let’s play some scenarios to show you the playoff race.
Let’s say favorites prevail in Arkansas and Omaha Beach and Improbable run 1-2. They’re both in. Long Rage Toddy’s already in. Country House could be a fourth qualifier if he runs third. That would put 4 Arkansas Derby horses in with more than 50 points each. That would knock Spinoff, Bodexpress and Signalman out of the Top-20. And that’s if the Arkansas Derby runs to form.
If the Arkansas Derby result is Galilean and Gray Attempt, 1-2 in either order, which isn’t impossible, and they are followed by Improbable third and Omaha Beach fourth, we’re looking at all 4 of those qualifying along with Long Range Toddy no matter where he winds up. Now the Arkansas Derby has 5 horses above 47.5 points and you can say goodbye to Gray Magician most likely as well. Toss in a qualifier from the Lexington among one of the aforementioned favorites winning, and there’s plausibility that 6 horses could leave Saturday’s races with 47.5 points or more.
This weekend will count this time. Literally.