Horse Racing

2024 Kentucky Derby Prep Races Recap

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2024 Kentucky Derby Prep Races Recap

The $5 million Kentucky Derby happens Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs. However, a horse cannot just enter the most iconic event in horse racing. Instead, qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby are determined through a points system called the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The series of points preps drew to a close on April 13 with the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland. The series of 2024 Kentucky Derby prep races started under the twin spires of Churchill Downs on September 16 with the Iroquois Stakes (G3). West Saratoga was the first winner of a Kentucky Derby points race this year, and though a lot can happen between the beginning and the end of the trail, West Saratoga is expected to be in the Kentucky Derby field!

Kentucky Derby Points Leaderboard

After the conclusion of the road to the Kentucky Derby, these are the points leaders. The field for the Kentucky Derby, which will be drawn on April 30, is limited to 20 plus four on the also-eligible list.

At this point, Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby winner T O Password is expected to compete, though no horse from the Europe Road to the Kentucky Derby is expected to make it. Therefore, the top 19 horses from the base points standings get a spot in the field.

These Kentucky Derby contenders remain under consideration. Points ties are broken by non-restricted stakes earnings, and are presented in that order of priority:

1Sierra LeoneChad BrownTyler Gaffalione155
2FiercenessTodd PletcherJohn Velazquez136
3Catching FreedomBrad CoxFlavien Prat125
4StrongholdPhil D’AmatoAntonio Fresu125
5ResilienceBill MottTBA110
6Forever YoungYoshito YahagiRyusei Sakai100
7EndlesslyMichael McCarthyUmberto Rispoli100
View Full Table

Kentucky Derby Prep Season

The Kentucky Derby prep season refers to the early races that offer points to the Kentucky Derby. None of these races offer enough points to guarantee a horse a place in the Run for the Roses, though running well in these races both gives horses experience and increases their chances of making the field.

10-point Kentucky Derby Prep Races

These 12 races at the beginning of the Kentucky Derby prep season offered 10 points to the winners. Among winners of these races, Catching Freedom, Dornoch, Honor Marie, Traco Phantom, and West Saratoga have gone on to earn bids to the Kentucky Derby field.

September 16Iroquois (G3)Churchill DownsWest SaratogaLarry Demeritte
October 7Champagne (G1)AqueductTimberlakeBrad Cox
October 7American Pharoah (G1)Santa Anita ParkMuth*Bob Baffert
October 29Street Sense (G3)Churchill DownsLockedTodd Pletcher
November 25Kentucky Jockey Club (G2)Churchill DownsHonor MarieWhit Beckman
December 2Remsen (G2)AqueductDornochDanny Gargan
December 15Springboard MileRemington ParkOtto the ConquerorSteve Asmussen
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* Horses were eligible for purse money, but had to forfeit the 10 points since trainer Bob Baffert is ineligible.

20-point Kentucky Derby Prep Races

These eight races, run through the early portion of 2024, offered winners 20 points toward the Kentucky Derby. Among their winners, Encino, Mystik Dan, Stronghold, and Track Phantom have earned their way into the field. Hades and Uncle Heavy have not been officially ruled out, but need four and five defections ahead of them, respectively.

January 20Lecomte Stakes (G3)Fair GroundsTrack PhantomSteve Asmussen
February 3Southwest Stakes (G3)OaklawnMystik DanKenny McPeek
February 3Holy Bull Stakes (G3)Gulfstream ParkHadesJoe Orseno
February 3Robert B. Lewis (G3)Santa Anita ParkNysos*Bob Baffert
February 3Withers (G3)AqueductUncle HeavyButch Reid
February 10Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)Tampa Bay DownsNo More TimeJose D’Angelo
February 18Sunland Park Derby (G3)Sunland ParkStrongholdPhil D’Amato
View Full Table

* Nysos was eligible for purse money, but had to forfeit the 20 points since trainer Bob Baffert is ineligible.

30-point Kentucky Derby Prep Race

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) offers 30 points to the winner, by far the most available in a two-year-old race. Fierceness, trained by Todd Pletcher, ran away with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November of 2023, earning him his first Kentucky Derby points.

Kentucky Derby Championship Series

The Kentucky Derby Championship Series refers to the races later in the season that truly dictate how the Kentucky Derby field will take shape. For the most part, that includes 50-point preps and 100-point preps, the races that virtually guarantee winners a slot on the first Saturday in May. It also includes the last of the Kentucky Derby prep races, the Lexington, which is only a 20-point prep but can still boost a horse on the bubble into the main field.

50-point Kentucky Derby Prep Races

These are the horses who won races in the first phase of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. Among these winners, Sierra Leone, Dornoch, and Domestic Product remain clearly pointed to the Kentucky Derby. Deterministic is unlikely but has not been officially ruled out. Timberlake was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail after a disappointing Arkansas Derby (G1), while Imagination was never eligible.

February 17Risen Star (G2)Fair GroundsSierra LeoneChad Brown
February 24Rebel (G2)OaklawnTimberlakeBrad Cox
March 2Fountain of Youth (G2)Gulfstream ParkDornochDanny Gargan
March 2Gotham (G3)AqueductDeterministicChristophe Clement
March 3San Felipe (G2)Santa AnitaImagination*Bob Baffert
March 9Tampa Bay Derby (G3)Tampa Bay DownsDomestic ProductChad Brown

* Imagination was eligible for purse money, but had to forfeit the 50 points since trainer Bob Baffert is ineligible.

100-point Kentucky Derby Prep Races

There were eight races that offered 100 points to the winners. It’s quite simple: if a horse wins one of these races, they go to the Kentucky Derby. Second place was also good enough for a bid in 2024, and even other horses in these races can combine third- through fifth-place points with earnings from other races to make the field.

Arkansas Derby

The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, run on March 30, was the richest race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, offering a $1.5 million purse. However, the winner will not race in the run for the roses. Muth, who pressed the pace and kicked away in the lane to win by two lengths, is trained by the ineligible Bob Baffert.

Arkansas Derby second-place finisher Just Steel, a constant presence along the Oaklawn spur of the Kentucky Derby trail, is expected to race in the Kentucky Derby. Third-place Mystik Dan also has a spot. Timberlake and Informed Patriot rounded out the points earners from the Arkansas Derby but have since been taken out of consideration.

Blue Grass Stakes

In perhaps the most impressive prep effort of the entire season, Sierra Leone unleashed a strong, sustained rally to overhaul Just a Touch and take the Blue Grass (G1) on April 6 at Keeneland by 1 ½ lengths. The son of Gun Runner, trained by Chad Brown, had already won the Risen Star (G2) at the same 1 ⅛-mile distance. Just a Touch, an improving Brad Cox trainee, was 3 ¾ lengths clear of long shot Epic Ride for the place. Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Dornoch and Turfway fixture Mugatu earned the final minor shares of points.

Sierra Leone will likely be one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Just a Touch and Dornoch are expected to be in the field as well. Epic Ride remains under consideration but needs three defections ahead of him to get in.

Florida Derby

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Fierceness does not bring his best every day, but when he does, he is glorious. Fierceness was glorious indeed on March 30 at Gulfstream Park, bouncing to the lead in the Florida Derby (G1) and stretching clear to win by 13 ½ lengths. The son of City of Light guaranteed his spot in the Kentucky Derby and remains neck and neck with Sierra Leone at the top of the Kentucky Derby markets.

In addition to Fierceness, second-place Catalytic is expected to race in the Kentucky Derby. Third-place Grand Mo the First needs one defection ahead of him to join the field. Hades, who came up flat in the Lexington on April 13 in an attempt to seal up a spot, remains four places out of the field.

Jeff Ruby Steaks

The only 100-point Kentucky Derby prep on a surface other than dirt, this race happened over the Turfway Park Tapeta on March 23. Endlessly, who had won the El Camino Real Derby over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields earlier in the year, circled the field and bounded clear to win by four lengths. Though trainer Michael McCarthy said after the race that the son of Oscar Performance would target the American Turf (G2) instead, several days later, the tune changed, and the Kentucky Derby remains in play. It would be Endlessly’s first try on dirt should he go in the run for the roses.

Second-place West Saratoga has also earned enough points for a spot in the field. Third-place Seize the Grey has not been taken out of consideration, but needs six defections to make the field. Fourth-place Triple Espresso and fifth-place Lucky Jeremy rounded out the points earners from the Jeff Ruby, but will not race in the Kentucky Derby.

Louisiana Derby

Coming off a good third behind Sierra Leone in the Risen Star, Catching Freedom made a smart last-to-first run to win the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 23 at Fair Grounds. Trained by Brad Cox, the son of Constitution earned points in Kentucky Derby prep races in both Arkansas and Louisiana, and is also a maiden winner at Churchill Downs.

Second-place finisher Honor Marie has qualified for the Kentucky Derby, as has fourth-place Track Phantom. The other two points-earners are both on the outside looking in: fifth-place Common Defense needs two defections to make the field, while third-place Tuscan Gold needs eight.

Santa Anita Derby

Stronghold, who began accruing points through some second-place finishes behind ineligible Bob Baffert trainees, found the winning line in the Sunland Park Derby and then proved his class and tenacity with a victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 6. The son of Ghostzapper, trained by Phil D’Amato, battled even-money favorite Imagination down the lane and got the best of him by a neck.

Second-place Imagination did not earn points since horses trained by Bob Baffert cannot race at Churchill Downs. E J Won the Cup, Curlin’s Kaos, and Tapalo all earned minor shares of points from the Santa Anita Derby but will not run in the Kentucky Derby.

UAE Derby

The connections of Forever Young painted a clear picture of their plans for Kentucky Derby prep races: the Saudi Derby (G3), then the UAE Derby (G2), then Churchill Downs. Despite the Saudi Derby being a flat mile, too short for the son of Real Steel, he got up to beat talented middle-distance horse Book’em Danno. The 1 3/16-mile distance of the UAE Derby was expected to help the Yoshito Yahagi trainee, and it did. He reeled in the older Auto Bahn and cleared off to win by two lengths, punching his ticket to Louisville.

Second-place Auto Bahn was ineligible for points because he was a southern hemisphere three-year-old, five months too old to be Kentucky Derby-eligible. Pandagate, Mendelssohn Bay, and Navy Seal rounded out the points earners, though none will start in the Kentucky Derby.

Wood Memorial

The Risen Star may well have been the most live prep race of the entire Kentucky Derby trail: winner Sierra Leone won the Blue Grass, third-place Catching Freedom won the Louisiana Derby, and fourth-place Resilience bounced back with a victory in the Wood Memorial (G2). Despite drawing the rail in a big field, the Bill Mott trainee rated nicely, switched out for a bid on the far turn, and kept finding enough to hold a 2 ¼-length lead at the wire.

Society Man, dismissed at 106-1 off of just a maiden win to his name, chased on to finish a clear second and earn a ticket to Churchill Downs as well. Fifth-place Uncle Heavy and third-place Protective earned points, but need five and nine defections ahead of them to make the field. Fourth-place Lonesome Boy earned points but is not under Kentucky Derby consideration. Eighth-place Deterministic currently has a spot in the field, but there is a strong chance he will defect after running off the board in the Wood.

International Kentucky Derby Prep Races

In addition to the main points system, there are series of Kentucky Derby prep races in both Japan and Europe that offer one bid each to the Kentucky Derby.

Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby is a series of four races on dirt at Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Nakayama. The first three races cover a mile, while the final one, the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama, covers 1 ⅛ miles.

T O Password, coming straight into the Fukuryu off a maiden win, earned 40 points for winning the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, rocketing him to the top of the leaderboard and earning him a spot in the starting gate. He was Triple Crown-nominated, and trainer Daisuke Takayanagi is bringing him to the Kentucky Derby.

T O Password is one of two Japan-based horses expected to run in the 2024 Kentucky Derby. Forever Young’s 20 points from winning the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun put him third on the leaderboard for the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. However, he earned 100 points in the main system with his win in the UAE Derby, and earned his way into the Run for the Roses that way.

Europe Road to the Kentucky Derby

The Europe Road to the Kentucky Derby consisted of seven races in Great Britain, Ireland, and France. The series featured four turf races last fall, plus three synthetic-track races in the spring of 2024.

Though the 30 points that Bracken’s Laugh earned when winning the Cardinal Condition Stakes at Chelmsford City on April 6 were enough to make him the points leader in the series, he was not Triple Crown nominated. The invitation to the Kentucky Derby can drop all the way down to the top five in the standings, meaning Patton Stakes winner Bergamasco (23 points), European Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes winner Notable Speech (20), Cardinal second-place finisher Orne (15), or Cardinal third-place Capulet (12) could have accepted a bid had they been nominated. But, none of them were nominated to the Triple Crown, so this bid reverts back to the main points system.

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