Mafaaz was the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes.

Mafaaz was the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes Off for 2010

The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes won't be held in 2010.

The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton in Great Britain, inaugurated in 2009 to award a Europe-based horse a berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), won’t be held next year. But officials said it could return.

Last year’s Challenge Stakes was won by Shadwell Stable’s Mafaaz, who took a pass on the Kentucky Derby after a disappointing effort in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. The Challenge Stakes was designed to foster European interest in the Derby and increase international wagering on the event.

“Churchill Downs is not discarding the concept—we are suspending the race at least for 2010,” Churchill vice president of communications John Asher said Oct. 9. “Again, we were encouraged by the enthusiasm for the concept and its reception by European horsemen, but do not feel the time is right for this concept to realize its full potential.

“That is not to say that we will not encourage European participation in the Kentucky Derby—we love having those horses in the starting gate on Derby day and believe their presence enhances the event. We have created quarantine facilities on-site to encourage the participation of those horses.

“There is a chance we could return to this concept, or something similar, down the road when international simulcast markets have grown and matured. But the primary issue for Churchill Downs remains timing and having the greatest opportunity to achieve the goals of increasing international wagering on the Kentucky Derby and growing interest among international horsemen to send major prospects (to the Derby).”

Suspension of the Challenge Stakes was first reported by The Racing Post, which quoted Kempton managing director Amy Starkey as saying the event “created a buzz in the racing industry. We won’t be frustrated and will continue to seek out innovative opportunities to internationalize our sport, and the part that Kempton, as one of only two British racecourses hosting racing under floodlights, plays in it.”

Asher said Churchill was “encouraged” by the 2009 Challenge Stakes, which attracted 14 horses. He said complaints by some United States horsemen that a U.S.-based horse would be excluded from the Derby if the Kempton race winner competed weren’t behind the decision to suspend the event.

“There was some concern among U.S. horsemen over the part of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes concept that guaranteed a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field for the winner of the race,” Asher said. “It did not happen in 2009 as Mafaaz did not make it to Churchill Downs. That was not a primary part of our decision to suspend the race for 2010, but we did listen very closely to the concerns voiced by U.S. horsemen, and those opinions will be strongly considered should we look to return to the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes concept, or something similar to it, down the road.”