Churchill Downs To Award Kentucky Derby Berth To Japanese Runners

07.09.2016, by Jim
Churchill Downs To Award Kentucky Derby Berth To Japanese Runners&h=223&w=348&zc=1

Horse racing is and always has been an international affair. The sport is popular all over the world and particularly in Europe, Australia and Asia. Many countries have their own professional racing scenes and have also shipped horses to the United States for racing. Most major stakes races will have a few ‘shippers’, frequently from Europe or the horse racing crazy Middle East. It works both ways–US horses will often enter international races like the Dubai World Cup or Queen’s Plate in Canada.

The Kentucky Derby is no different with horses entered that are based or were bred from all over the world. Churchill Downs already awards a de facto automatic berth to the winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby. Now, they’ll award automatic entry to the top finisher in two Japanese stakes races at Tokyo Racecourse–the Cattleya Sho for 2-year-olds on November 26 and the Hyacinth for 3-year-olds. Japanese horses have become increasingly competitive on the international scene in recent years. Earlier in 2016, Lani became only the second horse based in the Japan to run in the Kentucky Derby (ironically, he earned entry by winning the UAE Derby).

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this idea. It could be controversial among horsemen, however, since it essentially reduces the number of spots available for Kentucky Derby qualification. Under the Kentucky Derby qualification system horses earn points in designated races for two and three year olds. The 20 horses with the most points earn qualification. If a horse higher on the table scratches out, the next horse in the ranking moves up. The Japanese horse berth is technically the first ‘automatic berth’ awarded outside of the points qualification system. In reality, the winner of the UAE Derby gets an ‘automatic berth’ since it awards 100 qualification points to the winner. Many horse racing fans have questioned that decision suggesting that the level of competition doesn’t justify the UAE Derby awarding the same number of points as the Santa Anita Derby or Wood Memorial.

On the other hand, it could open up a ‘back door’ for Derby qualification–both Japanese races are open to all horses at the designated age. An American or European horse could ship to Japan for the races and perhaps sidestep the grueling and competitive US qualification process.

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