McCraken just took one big step toward qualifying for the 2017 Kentucky Derby, but he also took a big step back on the Derby futures market. The Ian Wilkes-trained colt finished a disappointing third at Saturday’s Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes, finishing 3-3/4 lengths behind Irap, a 31/1 long shot. It’s the first loss for McCraken (8/5) in five career races. As a result, the former Derby favorite has fallen from 6/1 to 12/1 at Bovada Racebook.

At least McCraken picked up 20 valuable points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. This is the qualifying system the Derby has used since 2013 to decide which 3-year-old thoroughbreds get to compete in annual the Run for the Roses. There’s room for only 20 horses at the Derby, and before the Blue Grass Stakes, McCraken was tied for No. 17 in the rankings with 20 points. Now he’s tied for 16th with less than a month to go before the biggest day in horse racing.


Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby used to be even more complicated. Instead of points, horses were judged based on how much prize money they had won in graded stakes races on the Triple Crown Trail. But officials at Churchill Downs discovered that most people had no idea how the process worked, so they tried something a bit more competitive and engaging for the public.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby is split into two halves: the Prep Season and the Championship Series. The Prep Season consists mostly of smaller Grade 3 events stretching back to the previous autumn, plus the key races for 2-year-olds at the Breeders’ Cup. Only a handful of points are available during this stage of qualifying.

It’s the Championship Series where you get the classic big-name Derby preps. This series is also divided into two halves; the first leg features more Grade 2 races like the Tampa Bay Derby and the Rebel Stakes, while the second leg is loaded with Grade 1 events – including the last big race of the series, this Saturday’s $1-million Arkansas Derby. As the races grow in importance, so do the points awarded.

Japanese Whispers

There’s one more race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and it’s something of an oddity – as you’d expect from the “Wild Card” billing it receives. The Grade 3 Lexington Stakes also takes place this Saturday, but there are only 10 points awarded for first place, just like the Prep Season events. Whichever horse wins the Arkansas Derby gets 100 points.

This year’s qualifying features an extra twist: the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. One spot in the field was reserved for whichever horse gathered the most points at the Cattleya Sho and the Hyacinth, two sprints held at the Tokyo Racecourse. But the handlers of Epicharis (50 points) declined the invitation, and so did the people behind Mont Saint Legame (40 points) and Adirato (20 points). By rule, that spot in the Derby reverts back to the 20th-place finisher in the regular standings. That could be the difference between McCraken making it in or not.

*Betting Odds as of April 13, 2017