By J.J. Hysell
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who will lead top Kentucky Derby contender Cairo Prince to the Florida Derby Saturday, expressed his sentiments about the Derby point system implemented by Churchill Downs.
The system uses points awarded in prep races to determine who makes the gate on the first Saturday in May. Prior to the point system, a scale based on graded stakes earnings was used.
Cairo Prince, considered one of the top contenders for the Derby, currently has 14 points – 10 from winning the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park and four for finishing second to Honor Code in the Remsen Stakes in November. While the exact number of points needed to make the field each year is impossible to determine because of scratches, that’s on the border of what’s considered comfortable. It’s preferred to have a least 20-30 points to have a chance.
Cairo Prince must finish in the top four Saturday to collect points. The Florida Derby offers 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
“They tell you every year they’re going to try and sort things out, whether it’s graded earnings or a point system.,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t agree with what they have come up with right now, so I’m happy to speak loudly about it, and I’ll go to Churchill Downs to talk about it and see if the complaint box is open. But anyway, hopefully we finish one, two, three, four, (on Saturday) and it’s not an issue.”
McLaughlin indicated the selection of races for the distribution of points is also one of his concerns and talked about what he’d change.
“I feel like that either point system or graded earnings, whatever they would choose, but also maybe like the Breeders’ Cup have a selection committee for, God forbid, the unforeseen crazy thing that’s going to happen sometime to somebody and have the last four spots (by) a selection committee; five spots, two spots, whatever you want,” he said. “But right now, to win on different surfaces around the world and get 100 points for races or 50 points, and then have proper dirt preps that have been there forever and the Breeders’ Cup be worth 10 points, I just don’t understand.”
The point system leaves little room for error in race planning. McLaughlin talked about the possibility of a sloppy track on Saturday. Cairo Prince has yet to run on an off track.
“Yes, he’s ready to perform a top race, an A plus race.,” he said. “We are a little worried . . . about the track weather-wise. If it’s real wet, he’s never run on a real wet racetrack. That’s always a concern. But we feel like he’ll handle a wet track, and he is ready to go. We just have had 60 days of great training.”