While there is an educated guess out there that 40 points may be the over-and-under to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, there is reason to believe it will take fewer points than that.
We start by looking at the horses with the lowest graded earnings to make the Derby field in the last six years. In 2012, the horse with the lowest amount of graded earnings was Optimizer with $184,708. In 2011, it was Derby Kitten, with $120,000. In 2010, it was Make Music for Me, with $218,750. In 2009, Nowhere to Hide had $55,500; in 2008, Denis of Cork had $165,000; and in 2007, Imawildandcrazyguy had $104,000.
Now, we compare points with purse money in upcoming major stakes.
This year, 40 points could be considered the equivalent of finishing second in, say, the $1,000,000 Florida Derby. The purse for the runner-up will be $200,000, and the points for the runner-up will be 40.
But $200,000 is higher than the usual cutoff point. In the past six years, on only one occasion has the lowest-earning horse come into the Derby with above $200,000 in graded money.
The mean in the last six years is between $120,000 and $165,000. It would therefore not be far-fetched to argue that because the runner-up in the Toyota Blue Grass stakes will earn $150,000 -- and will receive 40 points -- that 40 points is the equivalent of $150,000 in graded earnings. That would put a 40-point threshhold on track with the past six years' experience.
But a second way to think about this has to do with (1) the number of pre-Derby graded stakes races out there versus the number of races that carry Derby points and (2) the number of big-money stakes that carry only a few points.
We start with the correct assumption that there are far more races offering graded stakes earnings than races offering Derby points. In other words, under the new system, there are far fewer races with graded earnings that count.
If we consider 40 points to be the equivalent of a cutoff standard of around $150,000, the fact remains that this level of graded earnings should no longer be needed to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate because there are far fewer graded stakes races that matter now compared to the old system.
On top of that, graded races with good-sized purses like the Delta Jackpot, Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Holy Bull Stakes now have a small amount of points attached to them.
As a result of these factors, it woudn't be surprising to see a runner in the Derby starting gate with considerably fewer than 40 points.