The presidential nominating rules for the Democratic Party are decidedly undemocratic in that 30% of the votes needed to secure the nomination are controlled by unelected super delegates rather than won in primary elections. Does Churchill Downs likewise need a few super delegates to select one of the 20 entries in the Kentucky Derby field?

Since 2013, the field for the Kentucky Derby has been determined by a point system in lieu of earnings. In order for a filly to qualify for the Run for the Roses, she must compete in open company against colts and geldings and place well enough to qualify.

Certainly, the point system appeals to my preference for merit-based outcomes. On the other hand, for promoting the Kentucky Derby to the public and creating media buzz, granting an exception to the point system is compelling. Occasionally, situations arise in which the Kentucky Derby would benefit in terms of fan interest by including an entry that did not qualify under the point system.

For example, say a filly blossomed and became a sensation very late in the spring. Further, her connections would like to switch her from the Kentucky Oaks to the Kentucky Derby. Without having placed in one of the races included in the point system, this would not be allowed.

Another example is when a charismatic colt or gelding has been demolishing the competition at b-level racetracks. The Derby would be more attractive by letting in such an underdog to see if he could compete with the stars and pretenders. Fans identify with a “Rocky.” Although Mine That Bird qualified for the Derby on earnings, he nonetheless fit the “horse-from-the-leaky-roof-circuit” description.

In some years, perhaps most, no such exception would need to be made. But the possibility should not be precluded by the rules.

Churchill Downs could create super delegates of its own with the power to put at least one 3-year-old colt, gelding, or filly of their choosing in the 20-horse field. The delegates could be a group of five horse racing experts with no vested interest in the Kentucky Derby race and with their names kept confidential.

The one-horse exception to the Kentucky Derby point-system rule would allow Churchill Downs to add mystique and “rooting interest” to the field.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business


  1. Bad idea. In the world of politics, we are eventually saved from so-called super delegate mistakes by the general election voters and if that fails the US Constitution kicks in. In the world of racing, the leadership has been a wreck for decades. Why allow them anymore power to ruin the game?