The countdown to the Kentucky Derby is well and truly on, with the big race at Churchill Downs now less than one month away.

The qualifying campaign is heading to a close as the 2023 Kentucky Derby contenders battle it out around the globe to bank enough points to guarantee a starting slot at Louisville. One contender who made the headlines in the UK was Brave Emperor, who is a British-trained horse.

However, despite qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, Brave Emperor is one horse who now looks unlikely to line up at Churchill Downs come Saturday, 6 May.

Owned by Middleham Park Racing, Brave Emperor has been a strong contender on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, accumulating 32 qualifying points. However, the owners have confirmed that the talented gelding will not make the trip to Churchill Downs in May. The decision to skip the prestigious race was made after carefully weighing the costs of getting the horse to America, which would cancel out all his career earnings. In addition, there were also some question marks over the horse’s ability to handle the trip and the dirt track at Churchill Downs.

Tom Palin of Middleham Park Racing told Thoroughbred Daily News – “We have weighed it up, and the horse’s owners discussed the options. He has earned £108,000, but the costs of getting him to America would wipe out all of his earnings, so the decision has been made not to go, especially as there were a few questions marks, like the trip and the dirt.”

While Middleham Park Racing have decided not to send their talented horse to the Kentucky Derby, they remain open to partnering with an interested party to share the costs or to sell the horse if a viable bid is tabled.

European Road to the Kentucky Derby

Bought for a mere £19,000 as a yearling at Goffs UK, Brave Emperor has already made a name for himself by winning five of his eight career starts. He’s been kept busy in 2023, winning the Listed Prix de la Californie at Cagnes-sur-Mer under jockey Luke Morris. He followed that up with victory in the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ Conditions Stakes at Kempton, which earned him 20 points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby.

That Kempton success was followed by a second-place finish to the Godolphin-owned Bold Act in the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes at Chelmsford, adding another 12 points to his total, making him the stand-out horse in the European Road to the Kentucky Derby listings.

Big Targets Still Await Brave Emperor & Middleham Park Racing

If Brave Emperor does remain in the UK, his next target could see him switched back to the turf, a surface he hasn’t raced on since winning at Chepstow last May. Newmarket’s Craven meeting is the likely destination, with the Listed Feilden Stakes and Group 3 Craven Stakes both potential targets later in April.

Despite Brave Emperor looking set to miss out on the Kentucky Derby, there are still plenty of exciting opportunities for the talented horse and his owners, Middleham Park Racing syndicate, over the coming season.

The decision not to travel to Louisville has not been taken likely, with the syndicate carefully weighing up the costs and risks involved, as they do with any racing decision.

Middleham Park Racing enjoyed a fantastic 2022, landing 125 winners. These included Group 1 success in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc day with the juvenile filly The Platinum Queen, who has since been sold to Katsumi Yoshida, and Eddie’s Boy, who was successful in the Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury.