Will wilcard weekend yield cluesWhen Churchill Downs unveiled its new points system to determine who could start in the Kentucky Derby (in the event that more than 20 enter the race), the Coolmore Lexington, Derby Trial, and Illinois Derby were written off as prep races because of the dearth of points each offered in the new scheme.
The Lexington and Derby Trial are part of a wildcard round of races that followed the Derby Championship Series where races offered 85 points in leg 1 and 170 points in leg 2 with virtual automatic berths guaranteed for winning a race in leg 1 (50 points) or finished first and second (100 & 40 points, respectively, in leg 2).
The wild card races are worth only 34 points each, and many thought that even a win (worth 20 points) wouldn't be enough unless a horse already had points. Fast forward to the evening of the first wild card race, and it's conceivable that a win all but assures a spot in the gate (and certainly one among the entries, which is capped at 24), and any points might be enough.
The Illinois Derby does not offer any points, but with the list of horses officially pointing for the Derby dwindling you might not need any to get in, anyway.
All that is my long-winded way of saying what looked like an "off" weekend on the Derby trail months ago now absolutely bears watching. It did, anyway, from a Triple Crown perspective, but I'm not ready to write these races off for the Derby considering you might not need any points, anyway.
One guy not looking ahead to this weekend from a Derby perspective is Joel Cunningham from Triple Crown Insider, who "solidified" his top ten for the Derby when the Derby Championship Series concluded. Not that I disagree with that approach. Even if a horse (or horses) who runs well this weekend does point toward the Derby it's tough to see him (or her in the case of Pure Fun)as a top ten player. The exception might be Sunbean.
One thing Joel talks about that I didn't think of until after watching the video, is how the next two weekends could affect the pace of the Derby. As of right now, hardly anyone would call it "blistering", but if Titletown Five goes from the Derby Trial (the final points race) to the Derby itself then that changes things considerably.
Because of the lack of points on the bottom end of the Derby leaderboard (and the possibility that 20 might not line up as of now), these next two weekends are anything but time off from prep watching.
But that doesn't mean it's time off from Derby handicapping, either. As Jill Byrne notes in the video above, 15 horses are already at Churchill Downs, and regardless of location, final preparations are well underway for those with Derby aspirations.
Your preparations can begin as well with the Ultimate Oaks-Derby Handicapping Package from Brisnet.com, which features six great products for just $25. And our Derby Betting Guide is already available. Check it out.