The next wave of great American thoroughbreds is off to the races to earn qualification for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Even though the Derby will not take place until May 6th, racing fans have plenty of action to follow in February. Here's what you need to know about qualifying for this iconic race as well as some of the early contenders for the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is limited to three-year-old thoroughbred horses and is a Grade I stakes race of 1 1/4 miles. Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby requires participation in a rigorous system of 35 races called The Road to the Kentucky Derby.
For the fifth consecutive year, the qualifications for the race are laid out in a tiered point system. The system separates the races into 19 Kentucky Derby Prep Season races and 16 Kentucky Derby Championship Series races. There several more exciting Prep races coming up in the coming weeks. Also, the Champion series races are just about to begin at the end of February, where the points allocations for each race will raise the stakes and the adrenalin level.
Recent Notable Race Highlights
Just this past week, on February 4th, we had three notable races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Probably the most eyes were on the 1-mile Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park with a $400,000 purse. This was the first outing in three months for Classic Empire, who dominated at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
While Classic Empire finished third in the race, many are both disappointed in his showing and impressed with the winner's performance. Irish War Cry ran the Holy Bull largely uncontested and could be a new contender to watch as we move forward.
The Withers Stakes at Aqueduct was another exciting event over the weekend. El Areeb was able to shut down any doubters with his four-length win at the Withers, proving he could race effectively on a fast track. This was El Areeb's fourth straight victory, giving him 20 total points on the series leaderboard.
Early Contenders for the 2017 Kentucky Derby
As the qualifying races gather steam into the spring, the standings have shifted in just the past week. The top contender for the big race remains the same, however. Classic Empire is still the leader in terms of both points and total earnings, with 32 points and $1.49 million in earnings. He has won four of six races to date and finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes.
El Areeb has just made a jump in the standings to second place, with 20 points and earnings of $300,000. The name means "skillful" in Arabic, and this horse is proving to be just that. He now has wins in both the Jerome and Withers Stakes, tying him on points with Gormley.
Gormley remains another contender to watch, also with 20 total points to date. His most recent win was the Sham at Santa Anita, and he had also grabbed a victory at last fall's FrontRunner, also at Santa Anita.
As we move into February, keep an eye on several upcoming races for even more possible shifts in these standings. On February 11, we have the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The last race of the prep series is the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on February 20th.