Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs adds ‘European Road’ to the Derby, modifies Japan and U.S. series

Always Dreaming with John R. Velazquez up won the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6.
Always Dreaming with John R. Velazquez up won the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Churchill Downs, which introduced a “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” last year, has expanded its international efforts, adding a “European Road” series that also will earn a single invitation to the race next year. The new series and modifications to the American and Japanese series were announced Thursday.

Much like the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby,” the new “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” is a stand-alone series of seven races that is separate from America’s 36-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” sequence. Only one position in the Kentucky Derby starting gate will be awarded to the horse that accrues the most points in the European series.

“We felt it was important to work with our European partners to create a distinctive path for horsemen who are interested in the Kentucky Derby,” said Bill Mudd, president and chief operating officer for Churchill Downs Incorporated. “The new series ... culminates with a trio of early-in-the-year races over synthetic surfaces at Kempton Park, Dundalk and Newcastle. By working with great partners at the racecourses along with the British Horseracing Authority, France Galop and Horse Racing Ireland governing bodies, we’re optimistic this new series can add to the worldwide popularity of the Kentucky Derby.”

Two of the domestic tweaks include doubling the Derby point value of the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and reducing the points awarded for the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

The Lexington, the final prep race before the Derby, will award points to its top four finishes now worth 20-8-4-2, just enough to perhaps let some hopeful push into the Derby field. The Spiral was reduced from a 50-20-10-5 value to 10-4-2-1.

Another change to the domestic series adds the Dec. 17 $400,000 Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds at Oklahoma City’s Remington Park to the early card.

“It has been a meaningful race for Midwest 2-year-olds in recent years, including Will Take Charge, the eventual 3-year-old champion of 2013,” said Mike Ziegler, executive director of racing for CDI.

Churchill Downs has used a sliding scale of points to determine preference for its 20-horse Kentucky Derby field since 2013.

The “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” includes a quartet of 1-mile juvenile turf races: the Sept. 24 Juddmonte Beresford (Group 2) at Naas Racecourse in Ireland; the Sept. 30 Juddmonte Royal Lodge (G2) at England’s Newmarket Racecourse; the Oct. 1 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère (G1) at France’s Chantilly Racecourse; and the Oct. 28 Racing Post Trophy (G1) at England’s Doncaster Racecourse.

Two 1-mile races for 3-year-olds in early March will be the Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes at England’s Kempton Park Racecourse on March 1 and the Patton Stakes (Listed) at Ireland’s Dundalk Stadium on March 2.

The series will climax March 30 with the 1-mile Burradon Stakes at England’s Newcastle Racecourse, in which points will increase to 30-12-6-3 for the top four finishers.

Since 1967, 36 horses who previously raced outside North America have run in the Kentucky Derby. Venezuela’s Canonero II won the 1971 Derby, while Bold Arrangement, who was campaigned in Great Britain and France, finished second to Ferdinand in the 1986 renewal.

Meanwhile, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, a National Association of Racing race that often decides Japan’s champion 2-year-old dirt horse, has been added to the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” to make it a three-race series.

The 1-mile Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, which is annually contested at Kawasaki Racecourse, is set for Dec. 13 between the Cattleya Sho for 2-year-olds on Nov. 25 and the Hyacinth for 3-year-olds in mid-February. Both the Cattleya Sho and Hyacinth are 1-mile Japan Racing Association races that are staged at Tokyo Racecourse.

Two horses based in Japan have run in the Kentucky Derby: Ski Captain (14th in 1995) and Lani (ninth in 2016).