Magna Entertainment Corp. executive Joe DeFrancis said the difficulty in attracting European horses led to the demise of the International Turf Festival at Laurel Park. (MEC owns Laurel and has a hand in Colonial operations.) He said having five European nominees, including Italian champion Becrux, is a good start for the series.When asked if Laurel, where the grass course is being rebuilt, would become a player in the new series, De Francis said: "There are so many factors that would go into that."MEC hopes to make turf racing the lynchpin of the Laurel meet beginning this fall. Colonial, which races in the summer when the two Maryland tracks are dark, will program about 75% of its races this year on the turf.Jim Gagliano, who heads Maryland operations for MEC, said the eve of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), second leg of the Triple Crown, was a good time to discuss the Grand Slam of Grass."We are truly excited about this event," Gagliano said. "We're excited about our involvement."
The owner of Colonial Downs hopes the new "Grand Slam of Grass" is eventually worth $10 million and said two turf stakes at the Virginia racetrack that are part of the series would each be worth $1 million in 2006.The Grand Slam of Grass, a four-race series with $3.65 million in guaranteed purse money and perhaps a $3-million bonus for any horse that sweeps the races, is for 3-year-old turf runners. Over the next five years, the combined purses and bonus would gradually increase to the $10-million level.The series was announced earlier this year and approved by horsemen and regulators in Virginia. Jeff Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of Colonial Downs owner Jacobs Investments, discussed details of the series May 20 at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland.Races in the series are the inaugural $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup at 1 3/16 miles at Colonial June 25; the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT) at 1 1/4 miles at Colonial July 16; the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at 1 1/4 miles at Arlington Park Aug. 13; and the $2-million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park Oct. 29.Jacobs said next year, purses for the two Colonial races would be bumped to $1 million. If and when the Colonial Turf Cup is graded, it would move to the fall to better space out the series races, Jacobs said.The bonus is insured. If less than four horses start in any race, the insurance will be gone but the bonus will remain intact, he said."I think there is a void for 3-year-olds on the grass," Jacobs said. "It's a void that could be filled by European horses."The goal is to lure more European horses to the United States for an extended period of time through the year. The initial Grand Slam of Grass lured 67 nominees, five of which are based in Europe.