06/03/2008 11:00PM

Churchill sweetens pot to get Curlin in Foster

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In an overt attempt to secure Curlin as a starter, Churchill Downs announced Wednesday that the purse for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 14 has been increased to $1 million from the original $750,000 level.

The additional $250,000 will not come from the horsemen's purse account, but will instead come from what Churchill is calling a marketing account set aside for a special circumstance. The race conditions have been rewritten to require that a Grade 1 winner must start in the race in order to pay out the extra $250,000.

In a release, Churchill president Steve Sexton said the increase is "an effort to guarantee a top-notch field that will take the status of this important race to an even higher level."

Since its spring meet began April 26, Churchill and its horsemen have been embroiled in a stalemate over simulcasting and account-wagering revenues. Overnight purses were slashed 20 percent, effective May 14.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the organization does not object to Churchill using its own funds to boost the Foster purse.

"As long as the money isn't taken out of the purse account, it's entirely up to them," said Maline. "We wouldn't have a dog in that fight."

Nonetheless, Maline added: "It's probably hard for the trainers making this meet go to appreciate their going the extra mile to make this work. We've appealed to them to put that money back in purses, and yet we haven't been able to get them to agree to do that."

Curlin, a winner in 8 of 11 career starts, has earned more than $8.8 million. Trainer Steve Asmussen has said that he and the colt's primary owner, Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables, would like to break Cigar's all-time earnings record of nearly $10 million this year. Asmussen said he is "thrilled" that Churchill decided to increase the Foster purse. He said he is not sure what the next race will be for Curlin following the Foster, but noted that back-to-back victories in $1 million races would allow the colt to become the all-time earnings leader.

The Foster, one of six stakes to be run June 14 at Churchill, is expected to have only a handful of challengers for Curlin. Among the other prospects for the 1 1/8-mile race are Grasshopper, Jonesboro, Brass Hat, Sam P., and the Asmussen-trained Red Rock Creek.