By Matt Hegarty
Four also-eligibles will be able to draw into the field for the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 2012 under a new policy announced Friday by Churchill Downs.
The policy, which also will apply to the Kentucky Oaks, will allow as many as four horses to draw into the Derby in the event of any scratches prior to 9 a.m. the day before the race. The also-eligibles will be ranked in preference by career graded stakes earnings, under the same system that is used to determine the 20-horse Derby field.
Churchill has been pressured by some owners and trainers to allow also-eligibles for the Derby because of the high-profile late scratches of two horses in the past three runnings of the race. In 2009, I Want Revenge, the morning-line favorite, was scratched the morning of the race, while in 2011, Uncle Mo, the second choice on the morning line, scratched early Friday morning.
In addition, the late scratch of Danthebluegrassman from the 2002 Derby raised eyebrows because the horse had taken the final spot in the Derby field at entry time, denying Windward Passage a spot.
The new policy wouldn’t have made any difference in the case of I Want Revenge or Danthebluegrassman, because both were scratched on the morning of the race, but in Uncle Mo’s case, it’s possible another horse would have been allowed into the field following the scratch. In the end, 18 horses ran in the 2002 Derby, and 19 horses in both 2009 and 2011.
Entries for the Derby are accepted on Wednesday, allowing for a roughly 48-hour window for horses to draw into the race in the event of a scratch. The field for the Oaks, which is limited to 14 horses, is drawn on Tuesday.
In a statement, Kevin Flanery, Churchill’s president, said the track decided to adopt the Friday morning deadline for also-eligibles to draw into the race in order to protect the integrity of the wagering pools. Betting for both the Derby and the Oaks opens at 9 a.m. on Friday.
"We feel strongly that the deadline for also-eligible horses to join the Derby field must be set before preliminary wagering on the race begins," Flanery said. "Our concerns have always focused on preliminary wagering on the Kentucky Derby permitted during our Kentucky Oaks Day program, including refunds of wagers on scratched Derby horses and potential confusion during those two special days among our massive crowds of bettors."