Use Derby Points System to Determine Post Positions

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International Star - Photo by Hodges Photography

Just think if some healthy chatter on social media was going on this week about which post position the connections of International Star should choose with the first post position pick for this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

And additional talk could follow on where the connections of other top horses in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points standings should place their horses.

I think this chatter, and the race promotion that goes along with it, would become a reality if Churchill Downs were to award the connections of the leading horses in terms of Road to the Kentucky Derby points first choice of post position. Currently the record 171 points earned in the Road to the Kentucky Derby races by International Star have earned him a spot in the 2015 Derby and the same random post position that will be awarded to the 20th horse to make this year’s field.

Churchill has tinkered with the post position selection process before. There was a recent stretch where connections could choose their post position but those choices were determined by a random draw. That process added a step, but essentially it was still based on luck as opposed to previous accomplishment. The process didn’t catch on and Churchill has returned to the traditional process of random draw to determine the Derby post positions.

I think part of the reason it didn’t catch on is the public saw the process for what it was, a random draw with one extra step added. Also, this all took place on a single day, so there wasn’t much time for debate.

Currently the points system is used only to determine the horses in the field, which is limited to 20 starters. If the points system took on the expanded duties of determining the order of post position selection, I think it would generate some extra debate and interest in the race.

Yes it would be going against history, but I don’t see any reason why the process should have to be a random one.

In college basketball and professional sports playoffs, fans are accustomed to the more accomplished teams receiving preferable seeds. Those seeds, like post positions, guarantee nothing but offer some reward for previous accomplishment.

As for the process itself, you could let the connections pick every post position, in order, from the points leader to the 20th horse (I'd keep also-eligibles as the two outside posts). Or you could have some of the top connections select their spots and then fall back to random draw for the rest of the horses. I prefer the latter but think both methods are an improvement.

The mixed approach, say having the top five or 10 points leaders in the field be awarded the ability to pick their post and the remainder be assigned a post through random draw, might be more attractive to Churchill Downs, which of course prefers a full field of 20 to generate as much handle as possible. If the connections of the 20th horse know they’re going to be stuck with one of the worst post positions, they may choose not to enter at all. But if they were among 10 horses who would randomly be assigned spots, that would alleviate the concern and give them a shot at a decent post.

I like the mixed approach as it awards accomplishment without punishing too harshly horses who squeeze into the field. The final horse into the field would still have a chance through random draw to avoid being placed way outside or in the dreaded inside post. Roll the dice.

If this system were in place this year, the top five selections would go to the connections of International Star, followed by Dortmund, Carpe Diem, American Pharoah, and Frosted.
Perhaps the Derby draw would be more attractive to television with such a scenario as well. With some healthy debate going for the weeks leading up to the draw, I’d think more fans would want to tune in to see where the connections of the top horses place them.

I haven’t closely examined the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission rules at this point to see if random draws are required for racing, but even if rules needed to be adjusted, I think that could be accomplished.

I think awarding connections the ability to choose their post positions, whether it be all 20 spots or some of the top spots, would be more fun and generate more interest than the current random draw.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey, connections of International Star.
Keeneland Photo

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