Kentucky Derby Prize Upped to Record $5M for 150th Year Celebration

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The 150th Kentucky Derby is set to be landmark event in more ways than one, as racetrack operator Churchill Downs confirmed this week it will have a record $5 million prize pool.

This is a remarkable 67% increase from the previous prize. The winner of the 1¼-mile race will take home a cool $3.1 million payday.

This lucrative sum underscores the importance and allure of the Kentucky Derby in the horse racing circuit, making it the second-most valuable race to win after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which has had a $6 million prize fund since 2015.

In a notable change from previous years, the 2024 Kentucky Derby prize purse distribution extends beyond the winner.

The runner-up will receive $1 million, third place will secure $500,000, fourth place will be awarded $250,000, and fifth place will earn $150,000. This tiered prize structure is designed to recognize and reward the efforts of multiple participants.

This comes ahead of an important anniversary for the Kentucky horse racing businesses’ premier event. The Triple Crown of U.S. horse race betting recently had a controversial year in 2023.

“It is truly gratifying to view the steady growth of the Churchill Downs racing product and the entire Kentucky horseracing and breeding industry, which bettors around the world have embraced,” said Churchill Downs President Mike Anderson.

A Storied History

The Kentucky Derby has been a highlight of the U.S. horse racing calendar for more than a hundred years, and its financial stakes have evolved significantly over that time.

The race serves as the first jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes, relocated to Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, three weeks later.

Those two races were also not immune to the general changing climate last year around U.S. horse racing. In August, the Preakness Stakes reportedly considered changing its time line, although no changes have been made as of yet.

The very first Kentucky Derby was hosted in 1875, won by African American Oliver Lewis riding Aristides.

From a purse of $1 million between 1996 and 2004, the prize money had previously seen an increase to $2 million from 2005 to 2018, and then to $3 million since 2019.

Last year’s Kentucky Derby was won by Mage, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, who earned a $1.86 million prize for the colt’s owners. This year’s significantly higher purse reflects the ambitions operator Churchill Downs has.

Tough 2023 for Churchill Downs

The company will be looking to bounce back after a rough 2023. In June, it saw its main Churchill Downs racecourse shut down for two months after a dozen horse fatalities at the track in the space of a month. That included two over the 2023 Derby weekend.

The operator then reopened the course in September. That’s after conducting a “comprehensive evaluation of existing safety protocols and a thorough assessment of industry best practices,” according to a statement at the time.

Churchill Downs will be hoping the new record prize pot will go some way to moving past those incidents over last year’s Derby season.

The operator is also planning to open a new, high-end dining experience at the racecourse during Derby weekend, backed by sports media brand Sports Illustrated.

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