It’s never too early to talk Kentucky Derby and qualifying for 144th edition of America’s most famous horse race begins Saturday with the $150,000 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs.

The Road to the Derby Kentucky series awards points to the top four finishers on a sliding scale to determine preference for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. December’s $400,0000 Remington Springboard Mile joins the 36-race American schedule for 2017-18 and the “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” has been added to increase international participation.

Churchill Downs’ September meet opens this weekend and the Iroquois serves as the co-feature with the $200,000 Pocahontas (G2), a 2-year-old filly counterpart that kicks off the 2017-18 Road to the Kentucky Oaks series. Both races are held at 1 1/16 miles and offer points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

Last year’s Iroquois appeared destined to have a major impact upon the 2017 Triple Crown when Not This Time romped to a spectacular 8 ¾-length victory. The Giant’s Causeway colt just missed against Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, registering a 107 BRIS Speed rating for the neck second, but Not This Time unfortunately never raced again due to a career-ending injury.

However, the 206 Iroquois still made a mark on the first leg of the Triple Crown, with second-place finisher Lookin at Lee returning to Churchill Downs this spring to fill the same position behind Always Dreaming in Kentucky Derby 143.

Daddys Lil Darling, last year’s Pocahontas winner, came back to finish second in this year’s Kentucky Oaks. The Scat Daddy filly appears to have a nice future on turf following Saturday’s 4 ¾-length score in the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs.

When it comes to past winners of the Pocahontas, Untapable is the most distinguished. The 2013 heroine swept all six stakes attempts against females the following season, including the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (only setback versus males in the Haskell), en route to being named champion 3-year-old filly.

Of course, Rachel Alexandra tops the alumni list. Runner-up to Sara Louise in the 2008 Pocahontas, the Hall of Famer proceeded to capture her next nine starts and was named the 2009 Horse of the Year.

Top contenders for Saturday’s Iroquois include Hollywood Star, a sharp debut winner at Churchill Downs in late June and a rallying second most recently in the Saratoga Special (G2); and Ten City, who defeated subsequent Saratoga Special winner Copper Bullet when taking the Bashford Manor (G3) on the closing night of the spring/summer meet at Churchill.

The top three finishers from the recent Ellis Park Debutante – Kelly Humor, Upset Brewing and Sunny Skies – are expected back for the Pocahontas.

Points’ context

Held on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby has been oversubscribed for decades. The points system was inaugurated in 2012-13 and the minimum total needed has increased significantly since the first year, with at least 30 points required for the last two runnings.

Below are the minimum point totals from the Road to the Kentucky Derby series:

Year

 

 

20th Qualifier

 

 

Point Total

2017

 

 

Sonneteer

 

 

30

2016

 

 

Mo Tom

 

 

32

2015

 

 

Keen Ice

 

 

22

2014

 

 

Commanding Curve

 

 

20

2013

 

 

Giant Finish

 

 

10