(Reuters) - The storming run by Japan-based colt Lani at this year's Belmont Stakes has inspired a series of races in the Asian country that could annually produce a starter in the Kentucky Derby, from 2017 onwards.
Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has partnered with the Japan Racing Association (JRA) to create the 'Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby', which will include two one-mile dirt stakes races at the famed Tokyo Racecourse.
"This series provides a path for the top 3-year-old in the country to participate in the 'greatest two minutes in sports'," CDI's president and chief operating officer Bill Mudd said in a statement.
"We saw sizeable international interest through Lani's participation in this year's Triple Crown and we're thrilled that, through this partnership, we can add to the worldwide popularity of the Kentucky Derby."
Lani, a gray Kentucky-bred Tapit colt owned by Koji Maeda, made an electric charge down the long final straight to place third at the 148th Belmont Stakes in June, the final leg of U.S. racing's Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds.
"Beginning next year, Japanese horses aiming to run in the Kentucky Derby can run in designated races in the series at home in Japan to be awarded points to get this ticket to the starting gate," said JRA president and CEO Masayuki Goto.
"It is with great pride that 'My Old Kentucky Home' will reach Japanese racing fans and it is my earnest wish to sing it with a traditional Mint Julep in my hand, together with Japanese horsemen and all the many fans next year at Churchill Downs."
The 'Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby' will feature the Cattleya Sho for 2-year-olds, to be run at Tokyo Racecourse on Nov. 26, with the Hyacinth for 3-year-olds set for the same venue in early 2017.
Lani completed a two-length victory in last year's Cattleya Sho before finishing fifth at this year's Hyacinth, won by Gold Dream.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)