Jockey Club Racecourses is to stage two races in a groundbreaking initiative which will guarantee one European horse a place in next year’s Kentucky Derby.
For the first time a stand-alone qualification series of seven one mile races, the ‘European Road to the Kentucky Derby’, will be run across England, France and Ireland.
The points-based series will produce an overall winning horse to compete in the 144th running of the $2million (US DOLLARS) race, run for three year olds at world-famous Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday May 5 next year.
Jockey Club Racecourses will stage two legs of the series, the Group 2 ‘Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes’ at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile on September 30th 2017 and the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes’ at Kempton Park on March 1st 2018.
Other races in the European series will be run at Naas, Chantilly, Doncaster, Dundalk and Newcastle.
The ‘European Road to the Kentucky Derby’ will award points in each race to horses finishing first, second, third and fourth, with the horse finishing the series with the most points offered a berth in the race.
Four of the races, including the ‘Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes’, are for two year olds on the turf this September and October and will see 10 points awarded to the winner, four to the runner-up, two to the third-placed horse and one point for fourth.
In March next year the points will be increased for races on all-weather tracks, to reward three year olds for their form leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Legs five and six of the series, including Kempton Park’s ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes’ on March 1st, will see the first four horses awarded 20, eight, four and two points.
For the final race of the series, at Newcastle, points will again be increased and allocated on a 30, 12, six and three basis.
The European series is separate to America’s 36-race ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ series, which also operates a points qualification system for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby.
It is not the first time Kempton Park has staged a qualification race for the Kentucky Derby. In 2009 the winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at the Surrey course was guaranteed a spot in the starting gate and a $100,000 bonus for competing in that year’s race.
Barney Clifford, The Jockey Club’s Head of Racing for the London Region and Clerk of the Course at Kempton Park, said: “It’s great to see the link between Kempton Park and the Kentucky Derby re-established.
“When the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes was run eight years ago it was a well supported, competitive race. We’re looking forward to staging the fifth leg of this series next year, the first of the three year old races.
”Hopefully the winner of this qualification series will go on to run at Churchill Downs and this will be the start of an established route to the Kentucky Derby for European horses.”
Michael Prosser, The Jockey Club’s Head of Racing for the East Region and Clerk of the Course at Newmarket, said: “We are delighted that the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes is going to play a key role in the qualification process for one of the world’s most prestigious races, the Kentucky Derby.
“It's fantastic that Churchill Downs is offering European horses a berth in the first leg of the American Triple Crown and the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes has long been a great nursery for future stars, most notably in 2010 when it was won by the invincible Frankel, subsequent winner of no less than 10 Group 1 races.”
Churchill Downs said the new series was designed to increase international interest in what is billed as ‘America’s Greatest Race’.
Bill Mudd, President and Chief Operating Officer for Churchill Downs, said: “With premier races for Europe’s top horses often staged on turf in the months of May through October, 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.
“Any European horse that intends to test the Kentucky Derby now has an opportunity to qualify for the 1 ¼-mile dirt classic by competing in the new series, which culminates with a trio of early-in-the-year races over synthetic surfaces. We’re optimistic this new series can add to the worldwide popularity of the Kentucky Derby.”
Since 1967 a total of 36 horses from outside North America have run in the Kentucky Derby. Venezuela’s Canonero II won the 1971 race, while Bold Arrangement (GB), who was campaigned in Great Britain and France, finished second to Ferdinand in the 1986 renewal.