Inspired by Japan-based Lani's run through the 2015 Triple Crown series, Churchill Downs Inc. and the Japan Racing Association have teamed to create a series of races in Japan that could annually produce a starter in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The new "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" is separate from the 35-race "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. The Japan series includes two one-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. The JRA is scheduled to announce their full stakes schedule in October.
A position in the starting gate for the 143rd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby, set for 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 particular race over the other.
"All of us at Churchill Downs are thrilled to partner with the Japan Racing Association to create this exciting new series to provide an entry in the Kentucky Derby for a horse from Japan," CDI president and chief operating officer Bill Mudd said. "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. This series provides a path for the top 3-year-old in the country to participate in the 'greatest two minutes in sports.'
"We saw sizeable 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."
Lani, a Kentucky-bred Tapit colt owned by Koji Maeda, trained by Mikio Matsunaga, and ridden by legendary Yutaka Take, was only the second horse based in Japan to compete in the Kentucky Derby after winning the United Arab Emirates Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan in Dubai. He scored a two-length victory in last year's Cattleya Sho. Gold Dream was victorious in this year's Hyacinth, while Lani finished fifth in his start prior to shipping to Dubai.
The first Japan-based horse to compete in the Kentucky Derby was Ski Captain, who finished 14th in 1995. Lani was just the ninth Kentucky Derby starter that raced exclusively outside of North American prior to his Derby run. He went on to finish fifth in the Preakness (gr. I) and third in the Belmont (gr. I).
"I am very pleased to be able to launch the 'Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby' in partnership with Churchill Downs Inc.," said Masayuki Goto, president and chief executive officer of the Japan Racing Association.
"This year, Lani earned a spot to start by winning the UAE Derby in Dubai, but beginning next year, Japanese horses aiming to run in the Kentucky Derby can run in designated races in the series at home in Japan to be awarded points to get this ticket to the starting gate. It is with great pride that 'My Old Kentucky Home' will reach Japanese racing fans and it is my earnest wish to sing it with a traditional mint julep in my hand, together with Japanese horsemen and all the many fans next year at Churchill Downs Racetrack."
This is the fifth consecutive year that Churchill Downs will use a sliding scale of points awarded to the top four finishers in choice races to determine preference for its 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. At least 20 horses have entered the 1 1/4-mile classic for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds every year since 2004, and 16 of the last 18 years.
As was the case for the past three years, the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series will commence Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs with the $150,000 Iroquois (gr. III) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.