LOS ANGELES, March 8, 2013--It appears there might be at least one prep race added to Churchill Down's list of Kentucky Derby qualifying events for 2014. If you're thinking it will be the Illinois Derby, think again!

With the recent release its 2013 stakes schedule, Calder Race Course announced that the ungraded Calder Derby would be moved from grass to dirt, from 8.5 to 9 furlongs, and from a purse of $100K to $250K.

It will be run a week earlier on April 6 - the same day as the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial. That was also the day the Grade III Illinois Derby used to be run before CDI eliminated them from the KY Derby Trail.

But wait - how can an ungraded stakes race be put on a par with these two traditional Grade I stalwarts? No problem - it's CDI, not the American Graded Stakes Committee, that determines the currency of eligibility; now distributed in points among the top four finishers in designated races.

And, despite its contraction of qualifying contests, CDI was careful to set a precedent by assigning 10 eligibility points to the winner of the ungraded, one-mile Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, which is not a CDI property...yet.

If CDI wants to use one of its own properties to host a qualifier in stead of a rival organization's property, that's their prerogative. Nobody with a real shot to get into this year's Kentucky Derby is likely to run in the revised Calder event, but this move will prevent Hawthorne from reclaiming its abdicated slot. Machiavelli would have been proud!

Hawthorne could still fit the IL Derby into Arkansas Derby day the following week if CDI would let them back in.

What's more likely, however, is that CDI will attempt to get that date for Hawthorne rival, Arlington Park, Arlington opens this year on the day before KY Derby day, but has long had its eye on expanded spring dates.

The KY Derby is no longer just the gateway to the Triple Crown, CDI has become its gate keeper as well. It's been said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

With three CDI properties hosting preps worth 100 points to the winner, CDI would indeed realize its objective of being "in control of the Derby." Imagine if they decide to make those races invitational!

It appears the press is finally starting to look into the situation with this DRF column by Marcus Hersch who called the omission of the IL Derby from the Derby points system "curious."

"Churchill Downs is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., as is Arlington, and Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois is CDI's largest shareholder. Duchossois and Arlington have steadfastly maintained they played no part in the Illinois Derby's exclusion from Churchill's new Road to the Kentucky Derby system. Carey professes to believe that version of events. Many, though, see the linkage as all too obvious, an effort to make Chicago a one-track town."

Hersch described Hawthorne president, Tim Carey's first reaction:

'Carey said when Churchill revealed its new system in June, it caught Hawthorne off guard. Carey's first call went to Duchossois, not Churchill." As soon as the thing was announced, I picked up the phone and called him," Carey said. "He said he was not aware of it. He said he had just found out about it himself. I took him at his word."'

Later, Hersch revealed a more convincing view of that relationship:

'... Arlington has regularly called into question Hawthorne's financial viability during annual racing dates awards meetings with the Illinois Racing Board. "Publicly they have said at hearings that they need us, and in the same breath, they try to put us out of business," Carey said.'

Regarding Carey's subsequent IL Derby purse hike and calendar switch, Hersch wrote:

"To some, those moves invite comparison to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Hawthorne's financial status has become tenuous."

"Hawthorne's response to the Illinois Derby has not gone unquestioned. Many Hawthorne-based horsemen scoff at the notion of a Preakness prep, suggesting the same horses would show up if $250,000 had been carved from the purse instead of added to it."

I have this vision of Tim Carey harmonizing the following with the Eagles:

“…My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well with no appeal
On the other side of town a track is waiting
With location and dates no one could steal…”

= = = = =

I ran across two very interesting comments in response to
Jay Hovdey’s article on the new Derby points system.

Comment by juliuso
What everyone seems to be missing with the new points system, is that this system will reward the most talented horses and trainers that are willing to take on an aggressive series of challenges before they even get to compete in the Big Race. Building a reputation as a 3 year old BEFORE reaching the big stage is good for the sport. This will expose more "great horses" as opposed to one hit wonders that got the perfect setup to wine one big race and then off to the breeding shed. There is no reason why a top class horse should not be getting 4-5 top class races under his/her belt as a 2 year old, and then 4-5 top class races as a 3 year old before going for the "classics".

What the sport needs is champion warriors, where fans can follow the progress and victories over many races, and where Superstars earn their stripes beating allcomers instead of vanquishing one field of runners on a good day.

Comment by Marshall Lowe in reply to juliuso
What YOU seem to be missing is that Churchill Downs Inc. is rewarding their tracks, punishing others and would, in fact, have eliminated many past dery winners. Also, how does this 'system' keep one-hit wonders out? Ever heard of King of David? Won the Ark Derby and finished up the track. How about Brilliant Speed (Blue Grass winner), or Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby). Boy, these horses sure were warriors, weren't they? This point BS is just that, and I defy you to come up with a cogent explanation why it is not.

juliuso is very convincing, but the new system doesn't just retain the "Win-and-You're-In" component, it expands it. To promote his "Warrior" concept, there cannot be such a discrepancy in points among preps, and each starter should have to be competitive in more than one 3YO prep. In my opinion, points accumulated should inversely determine post position draw order, and a point minimum might help eliminate the obstacle presented by the inside post position.

Marshall Lowe’s counterexamples are too simplistic. Animal Kingdom got in based on a single race and won. Bodemeister got in the way King David did, and he might have been a Triple Crown winner under different circumstances. Sometimes it'll work and sometimes it won't.