Kentucky Derby Purse Raised to $3 Million

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In 2019 horses will compete for a $3 million purse in the Kentucky Derby, up from $2 million in recent years.
In 2019 horses will compete for a $3 million purse in the Kentucky Derby, up from $2 million in recent years. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday, May 4, will be the richest in the race’s history as the purse for America’s greatest race and first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown has been elevated to a guaranteed $3 million.

The $1 million increase to the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby for 3-year-olds highlights a record-setting, 34-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $12.03 million for Churchill Downs’ 2019 spring meet.

Fifteen of the races received significant purse hikes, including the Old Forester Turf Classic, Longines Kentucky Oaks, and Humana Distaff, and two new races were added to the historic Louisville racetrack’s action-packed season, which will be run over 38 dates from April 27 through June 29. 

The connections of Justify in the 2018 winner's circle. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With a race record $3 million in prize money now guaranteed for the Kentucky Derby, the winner will receive the event’s highly sought-after gold trophy and a $1.86 million payday. Also, $600,000 will be awarded to the runner-up, $300,000 to third, $150,000 to fourth, and $90,000 to fifth. The Kentucky Derby purse had been worth $2 million since 2005, and was $1 million from 1996 through 2004.

The 1 1/8-mile Longines Kentucky Oaks — the Derby’s sister race staged the day before — received a $250,000 boost to $1.25 million and remains the nation’s most lucrative race for 3-year-old fillies. It had been worth $1 million since 2011, and was worth $500,000 from 1996 through 2010.

The race that annually precedes the Kentucky Derby, the 1 1/8-mile Old Forester Turf Classic, has been doubled from $500,000 to $1 million, making it one of the most lucrative Grade 1 grass races for older horses in North America and attractive to potential international competitors.

Another Derby day fixture, the seven-furlong Humana Distaff for older fillies and mares, had its purse enhanced by $200,000 from $300,000 to $500,000.

All told, there will be a record 18 stakes races cumulatively worth $9.58 million staged over Kentucky Derby week, including seven stakes totaling $6.2 million on Derby day and six totaling $2.9 million on Kentucky Oaks day. There also will be a pair of stakes on the May 2 “Thurby” program and stakes races on Tuesday and Wednesday of Derby week.

The significant increases in stakes prize money are attributed to early returns from state-of-the-art historical racing machines at Derby City Gaming, Churchill Downs Inc.’s $65 million facility that opened in mid-September in Louisville.

“Our recent investment into historical racing machines is paying immediate dividends to Kentucky horsemen,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. “It’s extremely gratifying to meaningfully raise the purse of the iconic Kentucky Derby and other important racing fixtures on our stakes schedule as we continue to advance the overall racing program at Churchill Downs. Our steady growth in available prize money is truly exciting for the Kentucky horse racing and breeding industry.”

Purses at Churchill Downs in 2019 will be supercharged with more than an additional $10 million as a result of handle generated by Derby City Gaming’s initial year of operation.

More than $30 million in total prize money — $12 million in stakes races and another $18 million in overnight races — is expected to be offered during this year’s spring meet.

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