Churchill Downs officials made a trip across the pond this week to York's Ebor Festival of races in England "to explore the feasibility of an expanded starting gate" for the Kentucky Derby, spokesman Darren Rogers confirmed.
A standard 14-horse gate and attached six-horse “auxiliary” gate currently accommodates the Kentucky Derby field, which maxes out at 20 runners. But the setup has been questioned in recent years by a handful of horsemen, including Gary West after the disqualification of his Maximum Security in this year's Kentucky Derby.
On the “Today” show two days after the Derby, West called Churchill Downs “greedy” for allowing more than 14 horses in America's biggest race. The gap between the two gates and a rush for position leaving them has also led to collisions at the break, among them a meeting of UAE Derby (G2) winner Mendelssohn and Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Magnum Moon that essentially wiped out two prominent contenders at the start of the 2018 race.
York Racecourse, which this week hosted events such as the Juddmonte International (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1), both Breeders' Cup qualifiers, uses a single 24-horse gate. Presumably, Churchill Downs would be looking at constructing a single 20-horse gate.
Rogers said that beyond having Churchill Downs officials present in England, there's “nothing further to add or announce at this time."
“We're always looking at ways to further enhance our product,” he added.
Also this week, Churchill Downs announced its Road to the Kentucky Derby series of points races that will lead up to the May 2, 2020, race. It begins Sept. 14 under the Twin Spires with the Iroquois Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16-mile event expected to draw Dennis' Moment, a 19 1/4-length maiden special weight winner from the Dale Romans barn.
The Derby – which featured a US$3 million purse in 2019 – has used the points system since the 2013 running. Churchill Downs confirmed in its announcement the points will again determine preference for a 20-horse field.