Churchill Downs has created an opportunity for a horse from Japan to win an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby.
The Louisville racetrack announced the partnership with the Japan Racing Association on Monday.
The new “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” —– which is separate from the 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series — includes two 1-mile dirt stakes races at Tokyo Racecourse: the Cattleya Sho for 2-year-olds on Nov. 26 and the Hyacinth for 3-year-olds to be run in early 2017.
A position in the starting gate for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2017, will be awarded to the horse that accrues the most points in the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” and accepts an invitation to compete. Points awarded to the top four finishers in the Cattleya Sho will be 40-16-8-4, respectively, while the Hyacinth will carry a point value of 50-20-10-5. The points were structured to avoid an automatic qualifier for the winner of one race over the other.
“Horse racing in Japan is a tremendously popular sport. The competition is world-class and features some of the most accomplished runners in the world,” said Bill Mudd, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc. “We saw sizable international interest through Lani’s participation in this year’s Triple Crown and we’re thrilled that, through this partnership, we can add to the worldwide popularity of the Kentucky Derby.”
Japan-based Lani qualified for the 2016 Kentucky Derby in the traditional Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, most notably by winning the UAE Derby in Dubai. Lani went on to complete all three Triple Crown races, finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, fifth in the Preakness Stakes and third in the Belmont Stakes. Lani was bred in Kentucky but owned by Koji Maeda, trained by Mikio Matsunaga and ridden by Yutaka Taki. Lani also was just the ninth Kentucky Derby starter that raced exclusively outside of North America prior to his Run for the Roses.
Lani scored a 2-length victory in last year’s Cattleya Sho. Gold Dream was victorious in this year’s Hyacinth, while Lani finished fifth.
The primary Road to the Kentucky Derby for 2017 will begin Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs with the Grade III, $150,000 Iroquois for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.