Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Arlington Million faces travel hurdles to lure Europe horses

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After three years of itinerant uncertainty tarnished its reputation,
the Grade 1 Arlington Million is taking baby steps next month at Colonial Downs
in Virginia to restore its old luster. One important goal is to attract international
turf horses the way it did during its International Festival of Racing heyday at
Arlington Park near Chicago.

The devil now is in the details of getting from point A to
the new point B.

Click here for Colonial Downs entries and results.

“The future is rosy with Colonial,” said Adrian Beaumont of
the International Racing Bureau, the company in Newmarket, England, that long has been a liaison for horses, owners and trainers traveling to big races
worldwide. “It’s just that we’ve got some hurdles to get over with horses shipping.”

Silver Knott, a Godolphin-owned colt trained by Charlie
Appleby, is the only Europe-based horse who Beaumont confirmed will race Aug.
12 on Million day at Colonial. Already stabled in the U.S. after losses in May
and June at Belmont Park, the 3-year-old son of Lope de Vega will be entered in
the one-mile Secretariat Stakes (G2), where Appleby will be trying for his 15th
U.S. graded-stakes victory since 2019.

The absence of other international entries will not have
been for lack of trying by Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Colonial Downs and,
with it, the Arlington Million.

“We attacked it pretty hard this year,” said Gary Palmisano,
CDI’s executive director of racing. “We recruited pretty heavily. We just ran
into a couple logistical challenges with what airport horses actually could fly
into.”

Trainers such as Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien and France’s André
Fabre, who were fixtures of past Million days in their Arlington Park glory, appeared
to have been turned off by complicated travel to the new venue in rural
Virginia.

“They’ve got two options,” Beaumont said. “They can fly from
England at Stanstead to Indianapolis, then they’d (drive) Indianapolis to
Churchill, where they’d do 42 hours of quarantine as normal. But then it’s a
very long journey from Churchill to Colonial.

“The other route is to go to the Ark (animal terminal) at
JFK Airport in New York, do two days there, and then another very long, probably
seven-hours-plus trip down to Colonial from there.”

As much as the $1 million purse of the Million, the $500,000
of the Beverly D. (G1) and $500,000 of the Secretariat are lures on their own, Europe
trainers have opted instead for turf races this summer at Saratoga, which is a
more palatable, three-hour trailer ride from JFK.

Beaumont said upcoming Saratoga probables from Europe include
2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Rebel’s Romance, a supplement for the Bowling
Green (G2) on Sunday; 2022 Woodbine Summer Stakes (G1) victor Mysterious Night
and two-time France stakes winner Ocean Vision for the National Museum of
Racing Hall of Fame (G2) on Aug. 4; Belmont Oaks (G1) victor Aspen Grove, Ireland
Group 3 winner Caroline Street and France stakes first-place finisher American
Sonja in the Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G3) on Aug. 4; and Royal Ascot Golden
Gates runner-up Lion of War in the Saratoga Derby Invitational (G1) on Aug. 5.

Rebuilding Arlington Million day into a must destination for
Europe owners and trainers will require some back-to-the-drawing-board thinking
on making travel from over there across the Atlantic to over here in Virginia more efficient.

“Air travel for equines is a lot tougher now,” Palmisano
said, referring in part to the absence for two years of a Tex Sutton airplane
dedicated exclusively to Thoroughbred travel. “It would have been simpler under
the Tex Sutton days. We could have flown the horses to Louisville, quarantined
at Churchill and then flown them to Richmond right there by Colonial. Now we’ve
got to make that a 10 1/2-hour van ride in the middle of August. It just
adds further complication. It’s just a hurdle we’ve got to clear in the future.”

Mysterious Night and Ocean Vision were nominated for the
Secretariat before they were aimed instead for Saratoga. Fabre considered
sending his Group 3-winning filly Mqse De Sevigne to the Beverly D. before he
decided to stay home in Europe.

“It’s been an eye-opening situation with all the issues that
we have to go through to get runners,” Beaumont said. “It’s nice that we did take
some (nominations). There is enthusiasm. I think that the shipping implications
are things that we can tackle in the next year or two.”

Even with only one confirmed entry from Europe, Beaumont
said he will make his first trip to the Million since his own case of COVID
kept him from seeing O’Brien’s horse Armory finish seventh in the 2021 Mr. D.
(G1) at Arlington.

“I’m really looking forward to attending,” he said. “I just wish I had more
runners. At least it’s a toe in the water, and we can just hopefully do well
there.”

Million day was Chicago racing’s signature summer event for most
of four decades until Arlington Park was closed contentiously by CDI in 2021. The
card was moved last August for one time only to what was the troubled, new
turf at Churchill Downs. Once CDI took over Colonial Downs as part of its $2.75
billion acquisition of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the Million was on the
move again.

When it began in 1981, the Arlington Million was the first
race in the world to have a purse worth at least $1 million. It was held once
at Woodbine in 1988 while Arlington Park was being rebuilt after a 1985 fire.
It was canceled in 1998 and 1999 during a dispute over Illinois gaming legislation.
An impasse between track management and horsemen as well as COVID restrictions
led to the cancellation of the race in 2020. When the purse was reduced in 2021
to $600,000, the race was called the Mr. D. to honor longtime track boss Richard
Duchossois.

Even though the Arlington Million might seem to be back at square
1, Palmisano was confident its international prestige would be restored in due
time.

“The point of emphasis is that, absolutely, the international horses are a key
component to the event,” he said. “There’s plenty of work to be done for the
next 12 months in advance of the 2024 event to make sure we get more.”

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