[UPDATE]

Tom Chuckas, the president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he "does not see the need to change" the way the Preakness field is selected.

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The path to the Kentucky Derby has changed.




Since 1986, graded stakes earnings have been the key to any horse hoping to qualify for the field of 20 in Kentucky. But Churchill Downs, which owns and operates the race, has introduced a new method for ranking horses in an attempt to make the preliminary stages of the chase for the Triple Crown easier to understand.

Jennie Rees, one of the very best turf writers in the country, had the scoop. She explains it better than I can because, frankly, I haven't had time to figure out exactly what it means.

Here's how the official press release explains the new system (emphasis is theirs):

"The new point system – officially branded as the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” – will feature 36 stakes races overall and include 17 marquee events for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that comprise a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May to be known as the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series.”

Obviously the staffers at Churchill who devised the system gave weight to the races that have mattered most in recent years. But there were some left out: the Illinois Derby, which launched Maryland-owned, based and trained colt Done Talking into the Derby this year (as well as 2002 Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem), will no longer matter. (Here's a breakdown of the races that matter, and how many points a horse can earn in each.)

What this means for the Preakness is not yet clear. Maryland Jockey Club officials are still reviewing the plan. Right now, the first seven Preakness entries -- half the maximum field -- are determined by graded stakes. The next four are determined by highest lifetime earnings in all non-restricted stakes. The final five (including also eligibles) are determined by highest earnings, lifetime, in all races. Also, any horse who finishes in the money at the Kentucky Derby is automatically given a spot.

Obviously that's not a very fan-friendly formula. It's not easy to track. But it's also tradition. We'll find out in the coming days whether it could be adjusted in the near future.