BigDaddy News

Horse Racing News

Churchill Increases Kentucky Derby Purse to $5 Million

The 150th Kentucky Derby (G1) on Saturday, May 4, will be the richest in the classic’s history, with its purse raised from $3 million to $5 million. The increase was announced Jan. 10 by Churchill Downs.

“They put it up there where it belongs, huh?” commented four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. 

The purse now puts the Derby closest to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as the richest current race in North America, a move that pleases Lukas.

“I think that the Breeders’ Cup Classic and that race should be the two largest races in the country,” he said.

The purse increase for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby for 3-year-olds highlights a record 50-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $25.6 million for Churchill Downs‘ 2024 43-day spring meet from April 27-June 30.

Sign up for

Prize money for the stakes schedule increased 25%, or $5.1 million, compared with last year’s $20.5 million lineup as money from historical horse racing gaming continues to benefit Kentucky racing. Last month, Churchill Downs Inc. opened a second HHR gaming parlor in Louisville, Ky., this one downtown.

Before HHR gaming began at CDI’s Derby City Gaming (located near Churchill Downs’ off-site training center) in September 2018, that year’s spring meet featured 32 stakes races worth $8.8 million. There are now 18 additional stakes, and prize money for horsemen in those events has grown 190% or by $16.8 million.

With top horses shipping to Louisville to compete, pari-mutuel interest in Churchill Downs’ Derby-week racing also continues to fare well, which also benefits purses. Derby week handle in 2023 reached a record $412 million, up 5% from the 2022 record of $391.8 million. Combined all-sources handle of $363.6 million reported for both the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Derby days also improved the 2022 prior record of $348.4 million by 4%.

“These record purse increases are a symbol of the health of horse racing in Kentucky,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI. “Churchill Downs Incorporated’s over $1 billion investment into live and historical horse racing in Kentucky over the last five years has meaningfully strengthened the entire Kentucky Derby week and year-round racing program. It’s important to acknowledge the state legislature for its commitment to working closely with private enterprise in a truly collaborative partnership to support the continued growth of Kentucky’s signature industry.”

The state passed legislation clarifying HHR gaming as falling under pari-mutuel wagering in early 2021. 

“I have to give a special shout-out to our legislature,” said Alex Foley, the new executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.  “Without them, we wouldn’t be in this position.”

Thirty-eight of the 2024 spring meet stakes races received significant purse hikes, including $250,000 boosts to the $1.5 million Kentucky Oaks (G1); $1 million La Troienne Stakes (G1); $1 million Churchill Downs Stakes (G1); $1 million Derby City Distaff (G1); and $750,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2T). The track’s seven grade 1 events, including the Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) and Stephen Foster Stakes (G1), feature a minimum $1 million purse.

Higher purses have attracted horses to participate in the state and led Kentucky tracks to have some of the largest fields in the country.

“I think it’s coming very strong in the right direction,” Lukas said of racing opportunities at Churchill Downs. “The purse structure is definitely the thing that always dictates whether the quality of the horses stay or leave or where they go for stakes. I think the purse structure is very, very strong and the facility is constantly improving.

“There’s no reason in the world why it can’t be the No. 1 flagship track in America. Right in the heart of the horse country. You don’t have to look very far to find a horse farm.”

The increase to the Derby purse was applauded throughout racing. John Sikura, owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale at Xalapa, has long been an advocate for the Kentucky Derby purse to be raised and better match the stature of the race.

D Wayne Lukas, John Sikura, 2023 Keeneland September Yearling Sale
Photo: Keeneland Photo

D Wayne Lukas and John Sikura

“Churchill Downs has succeeded mightily in promoting the race and in the marketing of the race, and I’ve felt strongly for years that the horsemen should participate. This was overdue and certainly appreciated,” he said. “Next year, I would like to see the Kentucky Oaks have a $2 million or $2.5 million purse. People need to be paid well to win these kinds of races. (Raising the Derby purse) shows some respect to the horsemen and how difficult it is to win this race. It is a very nice gesture.”

With a record $5 million in prize money now guaranteed for the Kentucky Derby, the winner will receive the event’s highly sought-after gold trophy, a $3.1 million payday and possibly millions more as a stallion after retirement from racing. Also, $1 million will be awarded to the runner-up, $500,000 to third, $250,000 to fourth, and $150,000 to fifth.

The Kentucky Derby purse had been worth $3 million from 2019-23, $2 million from 2005-18, and $1 million from 1996-2004.

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

More Reaction

  • “The Derby is the most prestigious and recognizable global race. The purse increase to $5 million helps validate that. This is a very positive change by Churchill Downs. I am confident that Churchill will continue to make positive changes for the sport,” said Mike Repole, who owns 2024 Derby hopeful Fierceness , the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner.
  • “It’s a very positive move for racing,” said Fasig-Tipton president and CEO Boyd Browning. “It’s been the topic of a lot of discussion and chatter for several years and I think this kind of purse speaks to the magnitude of the race. It certainly has that stature in the sales world where a lot of people are living the Derby dream, trying to win that race.”
  • “Healthy purses promote a healthy sport,” said Keeneland president and CEO Shannon Arvin. “Keeneland sales have produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners, and the enhancement to the Kentucky Derby purse will encourage more breeders and owners to chase the dream. The increase is exciting news.”
  • “It makes a lot of sense. It’s one of the most prestigious races in the world to win, so it should have purse that reflects it,” trainer Chad Brown said.

Lukas does not anticipate the purse increase will noticeably impact the field for the Derby, which, even before the Jan. 10 announcement, had regularly attracted close to a 20-horse field annually. He believes that when horsemen skip the Derby to point for a race such as the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, it is often for a reason other than the purse.

The Belmont Stakes (G1), the final race of the Triple Crown and moved this year to Saratoga Race Course due to ongoing construction at Belmont Park, grew from $1.5 million to $2 million this year. The purse hike is the first significant boost since 2014.

Starlight Racing co-founder and managing partner Jack Wolf praised the decision of Churchill Downs to raise the purse of the Derby, though the horse owner remains opposed to the track’s continued ban of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert from participating. Baffert was banned after his trainee Medina Spirit , owned by Zedan Racing Stables, tested positive for betamethasone after crossing the wire first in the 2021 race and later was disqualified. That disqualification is under appeal in the court system.

Downey: Medina Spirit Appeal Says Racing Regs Unconstitutional

Starlight Racing has participated in 14 runnings of the Derby, winning it twice in partnership with others, first with Triple Crown winner Justify   in 2018 and then in 2020 with Authentic  .

Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing kisses the trophy after Justify won the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby May 5, 2018 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
Photo: Skip Dickstein

Jack Wolf celebrates Justify’s 2018 Kentucky Derby win

“Well, obviously the prestige is there. I think the only pressure for Churchill to increase it is from the standpoint of the public perception and criticism,” he said. “If they hadn’t raised it to $5 million, what are you going to do? Not enter the race?”

Horsemen, of course, always have targeted the race and Lukas likes that it now has a purse that matches that enthusiasm.

“I can’t picture anybody that thought they could win the Derby ever skipping it. I don’t think they skip $5 million if they feel like they have a legitimate chance,” Lukas said. “Most of the time when that happens, there’s an underlying reason. Their horse is probably not at his peak. He’s not where he would like to be on that particular day. “

At $1.5 million, the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks—the Derby’s sister race for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, May 3—remains the nation’s most lucrative race for 3-year-old fillies. It had been worth $1.25 million since 2019, $1 million from 2011-18, and $500,000 from 1996-2010.

“That’s wonderful news. I wish I was young,” quipped Lukas, 88.

All told, there will be a record 22 stakes races worth $17.5 million staged over Kentucky Derby week (April 27-May 7), including nine stakes totaling $10.8 million on Derby Day and seven worth $5.3 million on Kentucky Oaks Day.

Mage wins the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6, 2023 at Churchill Downs
Photo: Coady Photo

Large fields are the norm for the Kentucky Derby

Four races on Kentucky Derby week over the Churchill Downs turf will offer horses an entry and travel incentive to run in some of Europe’s most prestigious races, including during the prestigious Royal Ascot meet. The current Churchill Downs turf course has experienced repeated difficulties in 2022-23, forcing the track to cease using it in November toward the end of its fall meet. Shorter days and cooler temperatures typically make fall racing more problematic.

Churchill Downs Stakes to Provide Entry at Epsom, Ascot

The first condition book of scheduled races for the upcoming spring meet at Churchill Downs is being finalized by vice president of racing Ben Huffman and is expected to be published in late January. More than $57 million in prize money is expected to be offered. Purses for maiden races will be $120,000 and allowances will range from $127,000-$141,000.

Foley called Kentucky “the place to be if you’re running horses in the United States.”

Leave feedback about this

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Service


Add Field


Add Field
Choose Image
Choose Video

Want To Earn From Skills ?

Bonus On New ID