Updated on 09/17/2011 8:34PM

Kentucky Derby now worth $2M

Churchill Downs

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The purse for the Kentucky Derby has been doubled to a record $2 million guaranteed, Churchill Downs announced Tuesday, making it one of the richest prizes in North American racing.

The increase in the Kentucky Derby purse, the first since a $500,000 raise nine years ago, places the Derby in a tie for second with the Breeders' Cup Distaff and Turf on the list of the richest races in the United States. The $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic - worth $3,668,000 after nominator awards are paid out - is North America's richest race.

The Kentucky Derby, which will be run for the 131st time this year, began as a $1,000-added race in 1875. Over its lengthy history it has steadily grown, reaching $500,000-added in 1991, and $1 million guaranteed in 1996.

Track officials said Tuesday that they did not anticipate the purse hike to significantly increase participation in the Derby because field size is limited to 20 runners. The change, officials said, was necessary to maintain the Derby's stature.

"It was a show of our commitment," Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton said.

The additional purse will be funded by an increase in entry and starter fees, and from a redistribution of funds in the track's stakes program, including a reduction of four stakes races purses and the elimination of the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup.

Churchill Downs had come under fire in recent years for the purse of the Derby, which ranked as only the 55th most valuable race in the world in 2004. Provided there are no other major changes in the stakes schedule this year, the Derby will become one of the world's top 20 richest races and the third richest national Derby race behind the Japanese Derby and Epsom Derby.

Trainer Bobby Frankel, who publicly criticized Churchill Downs in the days leading up to starting Empire Maker in the 2003 Derby, said he was pleased to see the purse increase "but it would still need to be $5 million to be adequate. It disturbs me that they took money from other races. That sort of cheapens it."

Track officials said the loss of the Kentucky Breeders' Cup would be evaluated after this year, and it could reappear. The races whose purses were reduced - the Fleur de Lis, the Early Times Mint Julep, the Ack Ack, and Chilukki Handicap (formerly the Churchill Downs Distaff) - took drops ranging from $100,000 to $50,000 under the revised Churchill stakes schedule. These changes and the loss of the Kentucky Breeders' Cup will generate $375,000 toward the Derby purse.

Overnight purses for Churchill Downs have not been affected. Purses for 2005 are projected to reach an average of $485,000 a day, up from last year's level of $471,000, Sexton said.

Combining both entry and starting fees, It will now cost $50,000 to race in the Kentucky Derby - up from $30,000 - a move that could add up to $400,000 toward the purse if a full field of 20 horses competes. Sexton said the increase was not designed to keep less-accomplished horses from pursuing the race.

Unlike with many stakes races - where guaranteed purses are capped at the amount of the guarantee - Churchill has regularly paid in excess of its guarantee on the Derby with the addition of entry and starting fees generated from large fields. Track officials do not anticipate that changing in 2005. As a result of the higher fees, the purse for the Derby could actually climb above its $2 million minimum guarantee. This year's Kentucky Derby could carry a purse close to $2.2 million if 20 horses race, Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said.

The purse distribution for the Derby has also been revised. Horses running first through fifth will earn purse money. Previously the race had paid only to the top four finishers. The payment of 3 percent of the purse to the fifth-place finisher, or $60,000, will contribute to a lower percentage payoff for the winner. The winner is assured of earning 62 percent of the $2 million guarantee purse, plus any nomination, entry or starter fees that result in the purse vaulting past the $2 million mark. The second- through fourth-place finishers will receive a higher percentage of the purse in 2005. The runner-up will receive 20 percent, or $400,000, up from $170,000 last year.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, whose organization approved the changes along with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, said his group played little role in determining the changes necessary to bring the Derby purse up to the $2 million level. He said cuts to the stakes schedule were necessary to maintain the agreement that Churchill Downs has with Kentucky horsemen, which states that no more than 30 percent of purses are allotted to stakes.

"The hope, obviously, is that later that they could get a sponsor so that would not have to take away from [other stakes] purses," he said.

Visa sponsors the Triple Crown, and offers a $5 million bonus to the owner of any horse that sweeps the series, but the Derby itself does not have a sponsor, Asher said.

Churchill Downs's decision to raise the purse of the Derby comes roughly six months after the New York Racing Association reached an agreement with ABC on exclusive television rights to the Belmont Stakes, beginning in 2006. All three Triple Crown races will be shown on NBC this year, the fifth year in a row.

Ed Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, a company formed in 1986 that pursues deals for television and sponsorship rights to the three Triple Crown races, said these recent events do not show a growing independence on the part of the participating Triple Crown racetracks. With the Triple Crown sponsorship agreement with Visa ending in 2005, future sponsorship negotiations are under way, he said.

Richest races

Based on purse value to owners for 2004, the Kentucky Derby was the world's 55th most valuable flat race for Thoroughbreds. In 2005, assuming no other major changes, the Derby would move up to No. 18.

1Dubai World Cup$6,000,000
2Japan Cup4,674,818
3Breeders' Cup Classic3,668,000*
4Melbourne Cup3,363,300
5Arima Kinen3,303,107
6Japanese Derby3,092,900
7Japanese St. Leger2,560,570
8Epsom Derby2,537,269
9Spring Tenno Sho2,527,166
10Japan Cup Dirt2,460,891
11Autumn Tenno Sho2,408,553
12Takarazuka Kinen2,372,608
13Hong Kong Cup2,314,800
14Golden Slipper Stakes2,260,500
15Cox Plate2,218,500
16Japanese 2000 Guineas2,174,352
17Japanese Oaks2,042,680
18Kentucky Derby2,000,000**
 Dubai Duty Free2,000,000
 Dubai Golden Shaheen2,000,000
 Dubai Sheema Classic2,000,000
 UAE Derby2,000,000
23Arc de Triomphe1,985,920
24Japanese 1000 Guineas1,981,644
25Queen Elizabeth II1,856,658
26Breeders' Cup Distaff 1,834,000*
 Breeders' Cup Turf1,834,000*
28Hong Kong Mile 1,800,400
 Hong Kong Vase 1,800,400
30Hong Kong Derby1,796,200

* Excludes nominator awards
** Guaranteed purse