Also-Eligibles in the Derby: Where should they stand?
Before yesterday's post-position draw determining the field of the 138th Kentucky Derby, the small crowd gathering in The Secretariat Lounge was reminded that 2012 would be the first year an Also-Eligible list would be provided for horse racing's premiere event. My Adonis, on the outside looking in after hitting the board for a pair of Grade III events, is the lone entry still hoping to catch a case of Derby fever. The field will be set on Friday when wagering opens up to the public and it's probably unlikely that any scratches will be made this year, but there are some potentially serious ramifications to the rule that will likely come to the surface in the future.
How the Rule Works
If a horse scratches from the Derby field before Friday at 9 am EST when the wagering pools officially open, My Adonis will be entered into the outside post. All other horses will shift inside one position through to the scratched post. If the 12-hole is scratched, 13 moves to 12, 14 moves to 13 and so on. This is how it's done in every other American race, so why should the Derby be different?
Scratching the 1 Hole
Let's say the inside post were to be scratched. In nearly every other race on the racing calendar, the horse in position 2 would take the rail and little would be made of the move. But unique to the Kentucky Derby, the 1 post is considered a fate nearly worse than death.
As Bob Baffert said yesterday before the draw, if given the choice of having three stints in his heart and the most inside position at the Kentucky Derby, he'd choose heart surgery. Having experienced both in the last couple years, Baffert is uniquely qualified to give this opinion.
Rewarding an Also-Eligible?
The obvious fix for the Kentucky Derby alone would be to have the Also-Eligible entry fill the vacant position, keeping the rest of the field in place. But what if the scratched horse comes from the coveted 8 hole? Is it fair for the rest of the field that a horse shy of graded stakes earnings is given this sort of last second advantage?
Ultimately, we would have to decide whether rewarding the Also-Eligible is better or worse than punishing a horse good enough to make the original field of 20. It may be rare that the first position would scratch as it's just one of twenty different possible scratches, but does anyone doubt at some point in the future this scenario will be played out?
Should Churchill stay with the way things have always been done or make a tweak to avoid the potential of controversy down the road?