Few things are as riveting as watching top athletes compete against each other. That's why each year on the first Saturday in May, millions of fans make the long, expensive pilgrimage to Louisville or tune in on TV to witness to the world's greatest 3-year old Thoroughbreds make history at Churchill Downs. What many outside the industry don't know, however, is how each horse proves itself worthy of its coveted spot in the starting gate on Derby day.

To distinguish themselves as a top racehorse and earn a spot in the starting gate, contenders must travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. The Road to the Kentucky Derby (RTKD) is a series of races at tracks across the US and the world that take place from September through April. Points are awarded to the top four finishers in each race. The 20 horses with the most points will earn a chance to compete. Each race in the RTKD is at least a mile.

Below is a high level overview of the RTKD. For the names, dates, location, length and points for the 2020 RTKD races, click here.

RTKD Overview

Prep Season

  • 9 races from September -  February
  • Top four finishers in each race earn 10-2-4-1 points respectively, expect for the Breeders Cup Juvenile, which earns double those points

Championship Series

  • 16 races from February - April
  • These races bring the 3-year old talent into sharper focus leading up to Derby
  • Top four finishers earn 20-8-4-2, 50-20-10-5 or 100-40-20-10 points depending on the race

Japan RTKD

  • One spot in the  Derby is offered to the Japanese horse who earns the most points in this series of 4 races in Japan
  • Points for the top four finishers are different for each of the four races

European RTKD

  • One spot in the Derby is offered to the European horse who earns the most points in this series of 7 races in Europe
  • Points for the top four finishers are either 10-4-2-1, 20-8-4-2 or 30-12-6-3 depending on the race


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