09/17/2008 12:00AM

U.K. stakes to offer Kentucky Derby berth


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs announced plans Wednesday for a Kentucky Derby prep race at Kempton Park in Great Britain in which the winner would secure automatic entry into the field for the 2009 Kentucky Derby on May 2.

The $150,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes (KDCS) will be contested going 1 1/8 miles over the Polytrack at Kempton Park on Wednesday, March 18, and the race is structured similarly to the Win and You're In racing series that leads up to the Breeders' Cup.

As in that format, a win assures a horse of entry in an oversubscribed field, should the connections of the winning horse choose to run.

In addition, the owner of the KDCS winner also will receive $100,000 if the horse competes in the Derby - a bonus offered to offset entry, racing, and shipping costs, Churchill Downs officials said.

The newly created Derby prep is designed to encourage international participation in the Derby, which has not had a foreign competitor since 2002 when there were three. Those horses included the Aidan O'Brien-trained Johannesburg (8th) and Castle Gandolfo (12th), and Essence of Dubai (9th), who competed for Dubai-based Godolphin.

Canonero II, based in Venezuela, shipped to Churchill Downs to score an upset win in the 1971 Kentucky Derby and remains the only horse based outside of North America to win the race.

O'Brien - along with European trainers Dermot Weld, John Gosden, and Sir Mark Prescott - expressed his support of the newly created race in a press release issued by the track.

The creation of the race changes the procedure by which horses gain entry into the Derby field. In the event that entries for the Derby exceed the maximum field size of 20 - which has been the case in recent years - the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes winner would not need to be among the top 20 horses in graded earnings, the criteria used to determine which horses gain entry when the race is oversubscribed.

In 2009, if the KDCS winner starts, there will be 19 spots available to starters based on graded earnings.

"Is it fair? Probably not," said trainer David Carroll, whose horse, Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Denis of Cork, was the last of 20 horses to make the 2008 field. "But it does add something extra to the race."

Churchill Downs will provide $90,000 of the purse for the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes, with Kempton Park contributing $60,000. Churchill Downs will provide the $100,000 bonus, if awarded. All the Churchill Downs money will come from its marketing fund.

The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes will be run under lights at Kempton Park, with a post time expected to fall around midafternoon Eastern time. Live or tape-delayed national television coverage is being sought, track spokesman Darren Rogers said.