The “Roads” to the Kentucky Derby – What it Means

Derby 144 logoLast year, the Kentucky Derby sneaked in a new Road to the Kentucky Derby – one that went through Japan. The result was, well, nothing; the horse that collected the most points in the Japanese races, Epicharis, was removed from consideration by his connections, and the only other two prospects who could have been invited by Churchill Downs did not participate.

So this year the Derby has upped the ante, spreading the race for the Derby across the Atlantic. It’s added a European Road to the Derby, with the points leader having a chance to come across the pond and participate in the United States’ most prestigious race.

The new “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” is a stand-alone series of seven races that is separate from the U.S.’s 36-race Road to the Kentucky Derby. Only one position will be awarded to the horse that gets the most points in the European Road and accepts an invitation to compete.

So now we have two allotted slots for international horses. Granted, it’s intriguing; which area of the world has the best thoroughbreds? It’s like the World Cup of horse racing. Hot debates have sprung up over who was the greatest horse ever: The U.S.’ s Man O’ War and Secretariat vs. Europe’s Frankel and Sea Bird II vs. Australia’s Phar Lap (where’s the Australian Road to the Kentucky Derby?).

Only four non-American horses have won the Derby: England’s Omar Khayyam in 1917 and Tomy Lee in 1959, Venezuela’s Canonero II in 1971 (again, where’s the South American Road to the Kentucky Derby?), and Canadian-bred Sunny’s Halo in 1983. Likewise, American horses have had limited success in the Epsom Derby in England.

It seems like a gimmick at first glance; last year’s European entry, Thunder Snow, failed to finish. But who knows? This may breathe a bit of life into horse racing by introducing some nationalism into the mix, and it may bring in a superior horse to replace some of the longshots that crowd the field of 20.

“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,” said Bill Mudd, President and Chief Operating Officer for Churchill Downs Incorporated.

Only time will tell whether Japanese and European horse owners take the bet and bring their horses over to compete with the Americans. It may turn out to be a bust.

Peter Lee

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