Qualifying points start piling up on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
As in: The winner of the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday will earn enough points to qualify for the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 7.
The Risen Star is the 20th of 35 designated Derby prep races, but the first to offer 50 points - a lock for the Derby field if more than the maximum 20 horses are entered.
A look back at the points plan since it began in 2013 shows that 20 points all but reserves a spot in the starting gate for the Derby. Frammento last year, Commanding Curve in 2014 and Giant Finish in 2013 each qualified for the Derby with 20 points.
The Risen Star point distribution is 50-20-10-5, meaning the runner-up has a strong chance to make the Derby field.
Airoforce is the likely favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star. Trained by Mark Casse, the 3-year-old gray colt has won three of four races, and already has 10 points for a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
''He's a neck away from being undefeated and we're happy with him,'' Casse said recently, referring to Airoforce's second-place finish behind Hit it A Bomb in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last year.
A field of 13 is entered for the Risen Star, including the top three finishers from the Lecomte Stakes - Mo Tom, Tom's Ready and Uncle Walter.
Six more Derby preps are at the 50-20-10-5 points scale, followed by eight preps at 100-40-20-10.
The current point leaders are Nyquist with 30, Mor Spirit with 24 and Mohaymen with 20.
In other Derby-related news:
-It's on to the $2 million UAE Derby for Frank Conversation. After the colt won the El Camino Real Derby last weekend, trainer Doug O'Neill said Friday a decision has been made to head to Dubai for a final Kentucky Derby prep on March 26. O'Neill also trains top Derby prospect Nyquist.
Then again, O'Neill understands that sending a horse to Dubai ''might zap some of his energy and that could affect him when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, but the purse is so large at $2 million,'' he said in the Thoroughbred Daily News. ''For us, that may be our Kentucky Derby. We'll see.''
-The second pool for the Derby future wager has Moyhamen as the individual betting favorite at 4-1 among 23 horses. Nyquist is next at 7-1. The mutuel field - all other 3-year-olds - is 2-1.
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