Mafaaz earns berth in Derby

KEMPTON PARK, England — Mafaaz earned an automatic berth into this year's Kentucky Derby by winning a race at Kempton Park on Wednesday.

The 3-year-old chestnut colt defeated 13 rivals in the $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes, and gained one of the coveted 20 spots for the Derby on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

Mafaaz cruised past Sohcahtoa and then held off a late challenge by Spring of Fame to win the inaugural Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes on Kempton's all-weather track.

The fast-finishing Spring of Fame, with Chris Catlin in the saddle, was only a neck behind. Sohcahtoa, ridden by Ryan Moore, finished third.

Mafaaz, making his third career start and first in 2009, was ridden by Richard Hills and is trained in England by John Gosden, who has two Breeders' Cup victories and spent 11 years at Santa Anita.

The winner of the race was guaranteed a place at Churchill Downs with a bonus of $100,000 on top of the prize money of $70,000 for finishing first. It was also the highest prize money for an all-weather race in Europe.

Gosden lauded Churchill Downs and Kempton for teaming up to allow the winner of this race to enter the Derby field, which is set based on graded stakes earnings. For the first time, Churchill Downs has allowed a horse to qualify despite its earnings ranking. The rest of the field will be determined by graded stakes earnings if more than 20 are entered.

"I don't think you can have a bolder initiative by Churchill Downs and the race course here," Gosden said. "It was a good race. The form of our horse translates well through Crowded House and Donativum who are (either) Grade I winners or Breeders' Cup winners. It's solid and, from that point of view, he is a good inaugural winner of it."

Gosden, who trained 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass and captured the Juvenile Turf with Donativum, said he would talk to owner Hamdan Al Maktoum to decide where the colt should race next.

"He could well go straight to Churchill Downs. On the other hand, he could well run in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, which we nominated him to about a month ago," the trainer said. "That race is about the middle of April, and that race is in Kentucky so it's a van ride down the road to Louisville.

"They've got to take to the track, but he's handled this one very well. He's got to go left-handed next time, but he's pretty versatile."

Bookmaker William Hill is offering 33-1 that Mafaaz will win the Kentucky Derby and odds of 50-1 for the English Derby on June 6, which is on turf.