The Road to the Kentucky Derby heats up Saturday with three prep races: the Withers at Aqueduct, the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay and the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. The winner of each race will earn 10 Kentucky Derby points.
Put into perspective, the winners in the second, and final, leg of the series will earn 100 points.
This is the first year of the Derby point system. It is back-loaded, so the major stakes closest to Derby Day, May 4, are worth the most. The one exception is the Illinois Derby, which Churchill Downs left off the prep schedule.
I surmise it will take 40 points to be among the 20 Derby starters, and here’s why.
The seven-race second leg will yield 12 starters as the winners will earn 100 points and second place is worth 40. The UAE Derby is among the second leg, but seldom do those horses ship for the Derby.
The eight-race first leg of major preps will yield another eight starters as those race winners will earn 50 points. Now the possibility exists that a few winners of the first round also will run first or second in the second round.
The bottom line is if a horse earns 40 points, it probably will qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
The Lewis has the smallest field (four) but might be the most important. Trainer Bob Baffert has two starters in Flashback and Den’s Legacy. Baffert has said Flashback might be his top Derby horse.
There will be support for He’s Had Enough from the same Doug O’Neill barn as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, I’ll Have Another.
The Withers looks like a two-horse race between Revolutionary and Long River. Revolutionary has been the favorite in all four career starts, finally winning big last out for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Long River is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Alpha won the Withers last year.
And finally, trainer Mark Casse has a solid favored entry in Dynamic Sky and Northern Lion at Tampa Bay. Casse took this route last year with Prospective in winning the Tampa Bay Derby.
■ SUPER QUALIFIER – A Super Qualifier will take place today for the Horseplayer World Series at Gold Coast, The Orleans, Sam’s Town and Suncoast race books. The top five finishers will win a free berth into the HWS. It’s a $400 live money format with a $100 entry fee.
■ AQUEDUCT DARK DAYS – Aqueduct will reduce its winter racing to four days a week for the next six weeks. The track has had a high number of equine injuries this winter. Aqueduct will not race Feb. 6, 13, 14, 27 and March 6 and 13.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.