By winning the first two legs of the inaugural Grand Slam of Grass, English Channel has instantaneously brought to life a demanding turf series that many thought far-fetched when it was first announced. The bonus series guarantees a $5 million payout to the exceptional horse that can sweep the four races.
In Saturday's $400,000 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park, the Smart Strike
colt will again attempt to remove the doubters that haven't seen his impressive wins in the first two races, the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup and the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs. The $2 million John Deere Breeder's Cup Turf (gr. IT) completes the series.
Although skeptical at first, Arlington racing officials are now pleased that they were invited to participate in the series.
"Many of us were aware of the series but didn't think about it much until English Channel took the first two legs," says Dan Leary, director of communications at Arlington Park. "It takes time to build up a series like this. English Channel's success in the inaugural year speeds that process."
With its international turf emphasis, the racing at Arlington Park is similar to what Colonial CEO Jeff Jacobs wants to achieve in Virginia.
"Putting money up to attract European horses will give racing an international makeup," said Jacobs, who is considering free shipping of horses as an added incentive in future years.
Jacobs noted that prior to the creation of the Breeder's Cup, Arlington Park created the Arlington Million (gr. IT), the world's first million dollar race to attract European horses to the United States. The Grand Slam could accentuate Arlington's international aura.
"The series is looking to create exposure in Europe and internationally. A little of that has been accomplished in its first year," observed Leary.
Merger was a Kentucky-bred that has made all of his starts in Ireland. After being nominated to the Virginia Derby, trainer Dermot Weld opted to run in the $250,000 American Derby (gr. IIT) at Arlington with his eye on the Secretariat. Irish-breds Grand Central and Embossed, who have primarily raced in Europe, are also in the Secretariat.
Jacobs says that Colonial is also considering adding a major turf race for older horses, possibly on the same day as the Colonial Turf Cup, to allow past Virginia Derby winners like English Channel, Kitten's Joy, or Silver Tree to return to race in Virginia.
Kicken Kris, Marlin, and Awad won the Secretariat at Arlington Park and returned the following year to win the Arlington Million. Virginia Derby and Secretariat Stakes winner Kitten's Joy is the favorite in Saturday's Arlington Million.