Are the Kentucky Derby fields too crowded?

It’s now becoming the norm, rather than the exception, when 20 horses crowd into the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday each May.

Is the best horse winning the Derby each year, or is it now a case of the luckiest 3-year-old winning America’s most famous horse race?

Go back and examine the past four Triple Crown winners and see how many horses they had to beat in the Derby:

1978, Affirmed — 10
1977, Seattle Slew — 14
1973, Secretariat — 12
1948, Citation — 5

Two of the best 3-year-olds of the past 25 years who didn’t win Triple Crowns, Point Given in 2001 and Risen Star in 1988, both had to square off against 16 challengers in their Derbies. Of course, Point Given’s main obstacle might have had to do with how he handled the track that day and not the fact he was bumped right out of the gate.

I agree with European-based trainer Jeremy Noseda that the best horse doesn’t always win the Kentucky Derby, but is that a bad thing? I’m not saying Super Saver is not the best 3-year-old this year. He may very well go on to win the Triple Crown and prove his greatness, but there’s also no doubt that he got one of the smoothest, trouble-free Derby trips on Saturday thanks to Calvin Borel.

While we’re on the subject, has there ever been a jockey who rode a race track like Borel navigates the oval at Churchill? I mean, it’s amazing. You go back and look at his ride aboard Mine That Bird in 2009 and this year with Super Saver and they are almost identical.

You’d think someone would try to take the rail away from him in a race that is as America as baseball and apple pie, but I haven’t seen it yet. He breaks, heads straight to that rail and saves as much ground as he can before unleashing his winning kick.

Of course, it helps that he’s had live horses three of the past four years, but still, you have to hand it to the man they call Calvin “Bo-rail.” He’s gone in with a game plan and executed it to perfection.

I’m of the opinion we should keep the Derby as it is, though I also believe the graded earnings that are used to determine the starters if there are more than 20 horses needs to be tweaked. Perhaps more emphasis should be given to Grade 1 earnings.

Tell us what you think:

20 thoughts on “Are the Kentucky Derby fields too crowded?

  1. This year’s Derby was a complete joke. Too many damn horses means luck has far too much stake in the outcome. Baffert may now have a long-term problem with Lookin’ at Lucky because the horse is probably sick of getting the crap knocked out of him when the gates open. Baffert will have to work on that with his colt. Lucky was just pissed off, it was all over his face.

    Geez – even “the great Tom Durkin” (sic) couldn’t get more than one full call completed during the running of the joke. And almost 2:05 for 10f? Truly sloppy tracks are typically fast.

    Borel was the only real bet, good or bad. He did a good job getting there.

    I know it’s the Derby, and sad as it is to say, I don’t think I would have put a good horse on that track that day. The Preakness should hopefully be a better judge of what quality is running. Hopefully.

  2. It is so boring when people make this argument. WAAAAAAAAAH…….there are to many horses in the field. Every great race in the world has even bigger fields that is part of the challenge. Also, the bettor has choices just and because you guys cannot predict the winner prior to the race you wish for field reductions. Watch other races stop trying to change the best race in the world. You just do not get it.

  3. Will — For the record, I voted on the poll to leave the race as it is. Why fix something that’s not broken? But that being said, there are some people out there who would like to see a few less horses so it’s not quite the crap shoot it is now. Sour grapes from the losers? Maybe, but it’s at least food for thought. Just throwing this out there — what would be the harm in limiting the Derby to 14 like the Oaks? Don’t we normally have about six horses in there who are just mucking up the field? Not this year, to be sure, because you could have made a case for 17 or 18 of the horses winning. That’s how wide open it was. But normally, you can come up with a handful of horses who have no shot at all.

  4. Where else can you get a $100,000 plus superfecta almost every year? You diminish the accomplishments of Big Brown and others that have beaten 20 horse fields. The off track had more to do with the winner this year than the field size.

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