Churchill Downs will allow “also eligibles” for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks fields for the first time since it was allowed for a brief two years in the early 1980s. The 138th running of the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby will occur the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8 mile Kentucky Oaks, for fillies, will run the day prior.
The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 entrants and the Kentucky Oaks field is limited to 14. This new rule would allow four also eligibles for each race. The fields are comprised of the horses with the most graded stakes earnings. Entries for the Kentucky Oaks are taken the Tuesday before the race and Kentucky Derby entries are taken Wednesday of Derby week. Should a Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks entrant scratch before the shared scratch time of 9:00 a.m. Friday, Kentucky Oaks Day, one of the also eligibles for the respective race would draw-in. Also eligibles will also be ranked according to graded stakes earnings.
If an also eligible draws into the field, the horses numbered after the scratched horse's number would move down one in the starting gate, with the also eligible taking the last spot.
Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs said in a press release, “There has been significant discussion in recent years regarding also-eligible entrants for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, especially in light of the late scratches of Derby favorites I Want Revenge in 2009 and Uncle Mo from this year’s running.”
In the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, Uncle Mo, the morning line favorite, was scratched from the Derby on Friday morning with an unknown illness. Had also eligibles been allowed, Sway Away, ranked 21st in graded earnings, would have drawn in. Ruler On Ice, who went on to win the Belmont Stakes, was 22nd on the graded earnings list.
In 2009, I Want Revenge, also the morning-line favorite, was scratched prior to the Derby. However, he was scratched the morning of the race, which, according to this new rule for also eligibles, would not have allowed an also eligible to draw in.
”Our concerns have always focused on preliminary wagering on the Kentucky Derby permitted during our Kentucky Oaks Day racing program, including refunds of wagers on scratched Derby horses and potential confusion during those two special days among our massive crowds of bettors,” Flanery stated.
Advanced wagering on the Kentucky Derby begins Friday, Kentucky Oaks day and includes a special Oaks/Derby Double wager in which bettors must pick the winners of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
“Also-eligible horses for Oaks will have nearly three days of opportunity to get into their race, while the Derby’s window for also-eligible entrants to participate is just under 48 hours,” Flanery continued. “We feel strongly that the deadline for also-eligible horses to join the Derby field must be set before preliminary wagering on the race begins. Despite the more limited window for also-eligible horses for the Derby, this system provides owners and trainers an opportunity to keep their Derby dreams alive that has never existed before.”
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Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby