10/10/2009 12:00AM

Churchill scraps Derby Challenge


Churchill Downs is scrapping its short-lived experiment of sponsoring an overseas challenge. The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes, which was run last March at Kempton Park in England with an automatic Derby berth going to the winner, will not be renewed in 2010 after being offered for just one year.

Churchill spokesman John Asher said Saturday that the Derby Challenge did not make a serious impact in the international wagering market, either on the Derby Challenge or the Derby, as had been hoped, nor did it necessarily heighten interest from owners or trainers with overseas runners. Asher said the race is "currently suspended but not discarded" for future years and that it may eventually be revived, although perhaps in a different format.

Mafaaz won the 2009 Derby Challenge but ran poorly in his only subsequent race, the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and ultimately was not entered in the Derby, which is limited to 20 starters based on graded earnings. The Derby Challenge was the first race to ever yield an automatic Derby berth.

Tom Aronson, who was instrumental in the Derby Challenge concept becoming reality as a Churchill Downs Inc. vice president, has since been laid off by the company.