LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A full field of 14 three-year-olds has been entered for Wednesday’s inaugural running of the $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park near London. In an unprecedented reward, the winner of Europe’s clockwise 1 1/8-mile race over Polytrack will earn an automatic spot in the starting gate for the 135th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on Saturday, May 2 and a $100,000 bonus should the horse compete in America’s greatest race.

“I am thrilled by the quantity and quality of the horses that have been declared for the race, which has taken two years of planning,” said Brian “Barney” Clifford, director of racing at Kempton Park. “The race is unique and is the first step between establishing a long term link between Europe and American racing and I am very much looking forward to Wednesday.”

Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning trainer John Gosden has entered two in the race, Close Alliance and 3-1 morning line favorite Maafaz-GB, the former having won his only start on the all-weather track in October. Mafaaz, an English-bred son of Medicean-GB, is already a winner at Kempton Park, when winning his maiden on his debut in September, and the colt went on to be fifth in the Tattersalls Millions Race, four places in front of Sohcahtoa-IRE, who will represent trainer Richard Hannon in the race along with Weald Park, who was seventh in last year’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy.

Eight of the 14 horses entered have already recorded a victory over a synthetic racing surface, and the John Best-trained Desposer-IRE was fourth over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Grade I Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity last fall behind runaway winner and then-stablemate Square Eddie.

The complete field for the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes in program number order (with jockey, trainer, post position and morning line odds): 1. Agente Parmigiano-IRE (Shane Kelly, Gerard Butler, post 14, 25-1); 2. Akhenaten-GB (Tony Culhane, Mick Channon, post 11, 14-1); 3. Close Alliance (Jimmy Fortune, John Gosden, post 5, 8-1); 4. Deposer-IRE (Steve Drowne, John Best, post 3, 7-1); 5. Haashed (Jamie Spencer, Mark Johnston, post 12, 7-2); 6. Keeptheboatafloat (Darren Williams, Karl Burke, post 1, 50-1); 7. Maafaz-GB (Richard Hills, John Gosden, post 7, 3-1 favorite); 8. Markyg (Fergus Sweeney, Karl Burke, post 2, 12-1); 9. Mastery-GB (Joe Fanning, Mark Johnston, post 13, 12-1); 10. Shampagne-GB (Martin Dwyer, Paul Cole, post 6, 10-1); 11. Sohcahtoa-IRE (Ryan Moore, Richard Hannon, post 10, 14-1); 12. Spring of Fame (Chris Catlin, Michael Magnusson, post 8, 16-1); 13. Talking Hands (George Baker, Sylvester Kirk, post 9, 20-1); and 14. Weald Park (Richard Hughes, Richard Hannon, post 4, 14-1).

Only Close Alliance, Mafaaz-GB and Spring of Fame are currently Triple Crown nominated. The deadline to make a $6,000 late Triple Crown nomination payment is midnight on Saturday, March 28.

Wednesday’s Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes will be scheduled as Kempton’s third race under the lights at approximately 3:50 p.m. EDT. Mark Johnson, the colorful Englishman who was named Churchill Downs’ new track commentator in mid-January, will describe the action.

The entire six-race card from Kempton Park will be simulcast at select wagering outlets nationwide, including Trackside at Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs will host a free handicapping seminar with racing analyst Jill Byrne that focuses on Kempton Park and the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes. The seminar will take place from 2-3 p.m. ET in the Joe Hirsch Media Center on the sixth floor of the clubhouse. Also, “High Tea” will be served throughout the facility.

First post from Kempton Park is 2:50 p.m. EDT. Saftote (Phumelela) in South Africa serves as the international tote hub for British racing, commingling wagers back into the host track pools of the UK Tote.

The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes is an enhancement of a conditions race that was run on the same day last year, and was won by Campanologist who went on to win the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. The new creation – a partnership between Churchill Downs Incorporated, Kempton Park and Britain’s Jockey Club Racecourses – was announced last September and is designed to encourage international participation in the Kentucky Derby.

The race provides an additional incentive to owners and trainers who in the past may have been hesitant to point toward the Kentucky Derby because of uncertainty over whether their horse would have sufficient graded stakes earnings to qualify for the field. European contenders, in particular, have been at a disadvantage because their racing season generally gets underway later than the North American schedule and offers few graded stakes opportunities early in the year.

There has not been an international competitor in the race 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 Kentucky Derby in 1971 and remains the only horse based outside of North America to win the race.

The $100,000 bonus, if awarded, will be provided by Churchill Downs. The owner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes winner will still be responsible for all fees associated with the race, along with shipping costs. The Triple Crown nomination fee makes the horse eligible for all of the American classics: the Kentucky Derby, the $1 million Preakness (GI) at Pimlico Race Course and the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park.

ANALYSIS OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY CHALLENGE STAKES
Spotlight on the full field of 14 by Kempton Park and Churchill Downs track announcer Mark Johnson

1. AGENTE PARMIGIANO-IRE (25-1) Has drawn post position 14 (on the inside rail of this right-handed track), which is an advantage but needs to step up big time on what he achieved as a 2-year-old to figure here. His only win came over six furlongs on turf at Yarmouth (a straight track) and he is yet to race beyond seven furlongs. Tough task.

2. AKHENATEN-GB (14-1) Post position 11 is a positive and he comes here in winning form having won a weak three-runner allowance race at Wolverhampton at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack earlier this month. That was his first try on a synthetic surface. Well beaten in two Group 3 races on turf last fall (his pedigree is for turf being by Epsom Derby and two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf winner High Chaparral) but at least he will get the 1 1/8-mile trip and he has an affective stalking run style.

3. CLOSE ALLIANCE (8-1) An unbeaten Juddmonte Farms bred/owned son of Gone West out of an A.P. Indy mare who made a winning racecourse debut at Great Leighs (one mile on Polytrack) in October. Despite running green in the early stages, he picked up well late to score by a length from 13 rivals. Has been aimed specifically at this race by Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning trainer John Gosden and has a big chance despite his poor post position (Gate 5).

4. DEPOSER-IRE (7-1) Already has American Grade I form having finished 8½ lengths fourth behind his then stablemate Square Eddie in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October. His only win to date came over six furlongs on Polytrack last July (on the second of his six career runs) but his trainer John Best, who has already had success Stateside, believes his son of Kheleyf can still become a major player in America. Drew a poor post position in 3.

5. HAASHED (7-2) An unbeaten American-bred son of Mr. Greeley who made a impressive racecourse debut at Lingfield (one mile on Polytrack) in November when pushed out to win by two lengths (the third horse was a further six lengths back). Settled well in the early stages of that race under Kempton rider Jamie Spencer. Has an ideal post position to stalk the pace again here (12) and his trainer Mark Johnston won the corresponding race last year - before the link up with Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby - with the useful Campanologist.

6. KEEPTHEBOATAFLOAT (50-1) Has only won one of his seven career starts (a six-furlong turf race on the straight track at Ripon) and has been well beaten twice this winter in Dubai. Has drawn the worst post position (Gate 1) on this right-handed track.

7. MAAFAZ-GB (3-1) Overcame a troubled beginning, when bumped at the start and then rank in the early stages, to win by a neck on his debut at Kempton over seven furlongs in September. His only subsequent start saw him finish two lengths fifth in a 24-runner seven-furlong straight turf stakes race at Newmarket behind Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Donativum-GB. Like Donativum-GB, he is trained by John Gosden. His breeding is solidly turf based (he is a son of Medicean) so it is by no means certain his best form will come on this surface. Post 7.

8. MARKYG (12-1) Not surprising given his solid American dirt pedigree (by Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus out of a Storm Cat mare) that he didn’t win in his first three turf starts, although he did finish a highly creditable 3 ¾ lengths third in the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot. Has become a different horse since switching to Kempton’s Polytrack and followed up a one-mile maiden win last October with an emphatic two lengths success in a seven-furlong handicap (giving away weight to all his rivals) last month. Rated off the speed for those two wins so his poor post (Gate 2) may not be too bad.

9. MASTERY-GB (12-1) Has very much a turf pedigree and has only raced so far on grass. Won his maiden by 4½ lengths (over 1 1/16 miles on soft ground) at Nottingham in October before finishing third in a mile allowance race at Newmarket. Trip is no issue to him but the synthetic track is. Post 13 is a positive.

10. SHAMPAGNE-GB (16-1) The most prolific winner in the field having already won four of his 10 starts. More significantly, this son of Orpen is three-from-three on synthetic surfaces and one-from-one at Kempton. He broke his maiden at the track back in May last year over five furlongs. His most recent win came on Polytrack at Great Leighs last September over one mile. Was well-beaten in a Group 3 on turf when last seen in October. Post position 6.

11. SOHCAHTOA-IRE (14-1) Solid turf breeding and has only raced on grass so far. Won twice last summer at Goodwood (six-furlong maiden and a seven-furlong handicap) but only ninth behind Donativum-GB and Kempton rival Maafaz-GB at Newmarket in October. British champion jockey Ryan Moore aboard but has a stiff task. Post 10.

12. SPRING OF FAME (16-1) American-bred son of Grand Slam who, having been beaten on his turf debut, is now two-from-two on synthetic tracks. He won his maiden over seven furlongs at Lingfield in September by five lengths and then followed up earlier this month when beating just two rivals in a 1 1/16-mile handicap at Wolverhampton. He was sent off odds-on favorite for both his wins. Yet to face this class of rivals but open to improvement. Drew post 8.

13. TALKING HANDS-GB (20-1) Has won three of his 10 career starts (all three wins came on a run through June and July) and is now on a losing run on five races. Is one-from-three on synthetic tracks but well beaten by Kempton rival Shampagne-GB at Great Leighs (one mile on Polytrack) in September. Races from Gate 9.

14. WEALD PARK (14-1) Although American-bred, he has much more of a turf pedigree and has yet to race on a synthetic track. Only win in six starts came in June when taking a seven-furlong maiden at Newmarket (straight track) by three lengths. Not seen since finishing 10 ½ lengths seventh in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy over one mile at Doncaster in October. Also has a poor post position in 4.

MARK JOHNSON’S VERDICT – Although I am slightly worried about his outside post position (the clubhouse turn comes up really soon after the start in this race) dual course winner MARKYG (8) is a big price on the morning line and may represent some value here. The fact he is trained by a lesser-known but highly effective conditioner (Karl Burke) also helps the price. Of the lesser exposed horses I like CLOSE ALLIANCE (3) who certainly would not look out of place in the Derby line-up itself. Racecourse inexperience may be the only thing that gets him beaten. HAASHED (5) and DEPOSER-IRE (4) both look capable of getting involved late. 8-3-5-4