How to Get Into the Kentucky Derby Starting Gate

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by is a 35-race series that awards points to the Top 4 finishers in each race. The Top 20 point earners will earn a spot in the starting gate for the 142nd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on Saturday, May 7, 2016. The Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975. At least 20 horses have entered the 1 ¼-mile race for 3-year-olds every year since 2004, and 14 of the last 16 years.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard & Schedule of Races


If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker is earnings in non-restricted stakes races.


If a filly wants to run in the Kentucky Derby she can, but she’ll have to earn her way into the field by accumulating points against open company just like the rest of the colts and geldings and be nominated to the Triple Crown. Additionally, any points earned by a filly in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series against open company will be credited to her point total in the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series.


In the event of a dead-heat (tie) in a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race, those horses will divide equally the points they would have received jointly had one beaten the other.

Split Divisions

In the event a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race is split into divisions and each division awards its originally published purse money, points will be awarded as scheduled for each division. If the originally published purse is halved for each division, points will be halved as well.


Horses born in 2013 can be made eligible to run in the 2016 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown with a $600 early payment due by Jan. 16, 2016. A late period for nominations at $6,000 each will be open Jan. 17, 2016 through March 21, 2016. In addition to the Triple Crown nomination fee, owners must pay $25,000 to enter the Derby by 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, May 4th, 2016, and an additional $25,000 to start. A horse not nominated to the Triple Crown with sufficient points may be supplemented for $200,000.

Post-Position Draw

The Kentucky Derby post position draw – a traditional “pill pull” in which horses’ entry blanks are pulled simultaneously with a numbered pill to determine what stall a horse will break from the starting gate – will be held at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, May 4th, 2016, at 5:30 p.m. ET (Live on NBCSN). Up to 24 horses may enter the race and four horses can be listed as “also eligible” and would be ranked in order accordingly; they could draw into the field should any horse(s) be scratched before scratch time on Friday, May 6, 2016 at 9 a.m. ET.

Prize Money

The Kentucky Derby winner will receive a gold trophy plus an estimated $1.24 million payday. A total of $400,000 will be awarded to the runner-up, $200,000 to third, $100,000 to fourth and $60,000 to fifth.


Churchill Downs abandoned the graded stakes earnings criteria for the 2013 Kentucky Derby (used from 1986-2012) and proactively adopted a tiered point system to determine which horses would have preference for America’s greatest race. Today, a sliding scale of points is awarded to the Top 4 finishers in select races, and at the series’ end, the Top 20 point earners get first crack to start in the Kentucky Derby.


More than $59.7 million was wagered on the 34-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series in 2013-14 with an average of 9.38 horses per race. Betting on the 16-race Championship Series totaled more $34.8 million and an average of 9.94 horses competed in each event. On Kentucky Derby Day, Churchill Downs had its second-largest crowd (164,909), second-highest all-sources betting handle ($186.6 million) and 15.3 million viewers watched the race on NBC. Combined Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby Day attendance was a record 277,977 and all-sources betting totaled $229.8 million, which was second only behind 2013’s $230.4 million.

About the Kentucky Derby

To have a horse draped in the garland of roses while raising the solid gold trophy high atop the Kentucky Derby winner’s stand is the Holy Grail for horsemen around the world. Restricted to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, horses only have one chance to win the Kentucky Derby, and it’s quite an accomplishment just to receive a berth in the starting gate. Approximately 23,500 Thoroughbreds were foaled in North America in 2012, and if history is any indication, about one percent of the crop will be nominated to next spring’s Triple Crown. Only 20 will be allowed to “Run for the Roses,” as the Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975. At least 20 horses have entered the race since 2004, and 14 of the last 16 years. Once a horse earns its coveted Kentucky Derby berth, it, in most cases, will race the extended 1 ¼-mile distance for the first time. A combination of speed and the stamina it takes to complete the final eighth of a mile in the Derby often determines a win or loss.

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