While horses on the U.S. side of the pond are pounding their way to the Kentucky Derby through a series of tough Group (ah, sorry, that’s Graded for you guys) races, there is a small back door in Europe that seems to be quite a bit easier. The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes will be run at Kempton Park near London on Wednesday night, and the winner is assured a spot in the Run for the Roses. Whether the winner will choose to take up the challenge is another matter, but if he does (there are no fillies in on Wednesday), he will surely be the lowest money winner to line up for the Derby. The favorite has bankrolled a grand total of just 5,000 pounds, or $7,000, and the highest earner in the race is sitting at just under 43,000 pounds. Even with the first prize of just under 50,000 pounds on Wednesday, the winner is unlikely to approach the kind of cash his U.S. counterparts have to earn to snag a spot.
To be fair, a three-year-old in Europe has little chance to earn big purses in Group races before the summer. While Group/Graded stakes are available in the United States virtually all year long, the first Group race in Europe was just this past Saturday in France, and it was for four-year-olds and older. The first Group races for three-year-olds won’t happen until late April, way too late for a Derby prep.
It should be an interesting race Wednesday; I’ll be writing about it for the New York Times, and will also contribute to their Rail blog again this year. I’ll be talking to trainers at Kempton about what appeal the Kentucky Derby holds, and whether they would actually ship a horse over to run it.