On May 5th, 2018, twenty thoroughbred horses and their jockeys will line up at the starting gate of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. They’re there to win the roses (a symbol that their speed can’t be beat), the prize money, and America’s hearts. Each one of them has worked hard to get there, though, competing for months in qualifying races that rank them as the fastest horses, nationally. And 2018 will bring some additional international appeal as well.
There are four qualifying series that comprise the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Traditionally, those qualifying series consist of the Prep Season and the Championship Series. This season, the Derby has included a Japan Series and a European Series to the competition, adding an international fan-base. Competition should be more exciting than ever.
The 20-race Prep Season kicks off qualifying races with the first on September 16th. The Kentucky Derby works off of a point system, and all but one of these races awards the same points to the top 4 winners of each race. The winner receives 10 points, second place 4 points, third place 2 points, and fourth place 1 point. The only exception to this rule is the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, a more profitable race that awards 20-8-4-2. The last Prep Season race competes on February 19th.
This 16-race series kicks off in late February and ends mid-April. Points run higher in the Championship Series, with most races awarding their top four, either 50-20-10-5 points or 100-40-20-10 points.
European Road to the Kentucky Derby
36 horses from outside of the U.S. have raced in the Derby before, but not from these Derby specific qualifiers, and not one from Europe or Japan has won. Officials from Churchill Downs, England, France, and Ireland decided 2018 could be the year. One stall at the starting line will be saved for the fastest European thoroughbred. The European series starts on September 24th and ends March 30th. There are a variety of point distributions with most races awarding 10-4-2-1.
Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby
Japan is not entirely new to the Derby either, with 2 horses competing, Ski Captain (14th in 1995) and Lani (ninth in 2016). The Japan series could get one talented horse closer to the roses than ever before. This 3-race series kicks off on November 25th, awarding 10-4-2-1. The same point system applies to the race on December 13th. The last of the series culminates with a mid-February race, awarding 30-12-6-3.
Who to Watch
2018 will be an exciting year to see Churchill Downs filled with national and international horses, jockeys, and fans. Copper Bullet sits at the top of the Derby poll. His performance on August 13th set a high standard for strength. Still, there are months to follow races happening across the world. There’s plenty of time to analyze the competition, pick your favorites, and root for the underdogs in this exciting sport.