The Kentucky Derby has been run 137 times prior to the 2012 running to take place at historic Churchill Downs on May 4th. For the first time in the races illustrious history, as many as four also-eligible horses may be drawn into the Derby. For an also-eligible to be able to run in the Derby, another horse must scratch before 9 am on Friday, May 4th. This policy change will also be applied to the Kentucky Oaks race, which is held the day before the Kentucky Derby.
Each year, as many as 20 horses can start the Kentucky Derby and 14 can line-up for the Kentucky Oaks. Often, there are additional entrants that do not make it into the race. After several incidents of late scratches affecting the fields, many owners and trainers began pressuring Churchill Downs to allow for also-eligible horses to be available in the event there is an illness or an injury that causes an entry to have to pull from the race. In this past year’s Derby, Uncle Mo was withdrawn early the day before the race with a liver ailment, and under the new rules would have been replaced by Sway Away.
The time frame of 9 a.m. of the day prior to the Derby race was devised as a way to ensure the integrity of wagers being placed. Wagering opens for both the Oaks and the Derby on Friday at 9 a.m. Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery stressed that the new rule will allow up to four horses to keep their dreams of running in the Derby alive in the days leading up to horse racing’s first leg of the Triple Crown. Preference for the also-eligible horses will continue to be determined by the current eligibility rules for the Derby and Oaks races, which would rank them in order of the horses total earnings in graded stakes races. Also-eligible horses will not be required to run in the race in the event of a scratch and the position taken by an also-eligible would be the outermost position in the starting gate, with all other entrants moved towards the inside.