What Are The Rules of The Kentucky Derby?

What Are The Rules of The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is considered one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. Twenty horses compete in the derby, which typically draws in around 155,000 spectators to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is also the first leg of the horse racing Triple Crown, which is followed by the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. There are different rules to keep in mind for the Kentucky Derby, as there are general horse racing rules that must be followed in every race and specific criteria to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

Horse Racing Rules

Like most Thoroughbred races, the Kentucky Derby follows the rules of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). These rules dictate the eligibility of horses and jockeys, give general rules for how races are conducted, and outline the roles of race officials.


The objective of horse racing is to complete the race before any of the other horses. The horses run around an oval race track with a jockey on their back that needs to control the speed and composure of the horse.

Starting Stalls

Each horse race begins at the starter stall, where each horse runs out after the starting gun is fired. If a horse runs out of the starting gate before the starting pistol has been shot, a false start is declared.

Winning the Race

As with any other race, the race ends at the finish line, and the first horse to cross that line is declared the winner. It is also illegal to push, shove, or otherwise interfere with another horse or jockey during the race, and the horse and jockey will be disqualified if this occurs.

Gambling Rules

Horse racing is also a sport with heavy gambling ties. On account of this, there are rules in place to ensure competitive integrity so that no one unfairly loses money due to a jockey not putting in full effort to win a race. If the race steward feels that a jockey intentionally lost a horse race or did not commit full effort to win a race, there can be severe sanctions and suspensions for the horse and jockey, depending on the situation.

Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby

The two main rules governing qualifying for the Kentucky Derby are the age restriction and the requirement to place in preparation races. These rules ensure a quality field and fairness in competition.

Age Restrictions

The Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown races are unique in that each horse in the derby must be exactly three years old. The age limitation creates a competitive environment because every horse is the same age and theoretically has the same physical capabilities. Due to this, the Kentucky Derby is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event for each horse, and qualification into the race is considered a prestigious honor.

Preparation Races

To qualify for the Kentucky Derby, a horse must compete in a number of preparation races, and points are allotted through these races. In each of the prep races, the top four finishers gain points towards qualification for the Kentucky Derby. While most of these horses qualify from prep races within the United States, there are also prep races in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Preparation Race Points

The number of points allotted varies from race to race, with top finishers in races shortly before the actual Kentucky Derby earning more points than earlier in the circuit. For example, the last prep race before the Kentucky Derby is the Lexington Stakes. The winner of this race is awarded 20 points toward qualification, with second place being awarded eight points. Horses must have 40 points accumulated via these prep races to qualify.

Entrance and Starting Fees

The Kentucky Derby is also quite costly for any horse that qualifies. Along with any traveling and other costs associated with attending the event, the owner of each horse must pay an entrance and starting fee.

For each horse, the entrance and starting fee is $25,000 each, totaling $50,000, as well as a nomination fee that is either $600 or $6,000, depending on how early they qualify for the derby. These fees can be well worth the costs, though, as the winner of the Kentucky Derby earns a $2 million prize.


What are the rules for running in the Kentucky Derby?

There are a number of rules that govern the running of the Kentucky Derby, including qualifying rules and the rules of the race itself. Qualifying rules include the requirement that every horse in the Derby be exactly three years old and that they have accumulated a certain point total in previous races. Rules at the race itself include regulations governing false starts, pushing, interference, and the use of illegal substances, among others.

How many points do you need to run in the Kentucky Derby?

In order to run in the Kentucky Derby, a horse must have accumulated 40 points from preparation races which are run in the weeks prior to the Derby. These races award points to finishers who place in the top four, meaning that horses which are aiming at making the Derby must do well in these races in order to gain enough points to qualify.