06/05/2008 11:00PM

Suffolk attemps to lure Big Brown, Curlin

Email

In an attempt to lure both Curlin and Big Brown to the Massachusetts Handicap, Suffolk Downs has announced a bonus that could potentially bring the value of the race from $500,000 to $5 million.

The East Boston track announced it would raise the value of the Sept. 20 Mass Cap to $5 million if Big Brown goes on to win the Triple Crown in Saturday's Belmont Stakes and both horses enter the Mass Cap undefeated in 2008. The $5 million includes a $1 million appearance bonus for the connections of each horse.

The Mass Cap purse would be $3 million if Big Brown wins the Triple Crown but either horse enters the race having suffered a loss this year. The $3 million includes a $500,000 appearance bonus for each horse.

Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year who won the Dubai World Cup in his last start, is slated to run in the Stephen Foster Handicap next Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Funding for the purse increase would could come from Coastal Development LLC, a company owned by Suffolk's largest shareholder, Richard Fields.

"Richard Fields is a guy who thinks big," Suffolk chief operating officer Chip Tuttle said. "It doesn't get much bigger than these two horses, and his motivation is to have them meet at his racetrack."

Kevin McGee, spokesman for Curlin's majority owner Jess Jackson, responded positively to the bonus but stopped short of committing to the race.

"It is definitely interesting to us but of course there is a lot of distance between now and then. We're not sure what shape Curlin's campaign will take the rest of the year, but this is something in the forefront of our minds," McGee said.

The money doesn't appear to be enough to lure Big Brown. Majority owners IEAH Stables and trainer Rick Dutrow already have a different schedule planned.

"Right now, we really don't think it fits the program that we've lined up, and we've already committed to our partners to go to the Travers and then the Breeders' Cup," said Michael Iavarone, managing partner of IEAH. "The spacing between the Mass Cap and the Travers doesn't quite work, but it's truly an honor to even be considered for such a thing."

The Grade 1 Travers will be run Aug. 23 at Saratoga.

Dutrow said he had no interest in the Mass Cap incentives.

"We're not gonna use this horse for stuff like that," he said.

The trainer said he hoped to meet Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I hope they meet then and there," he said. "That's where we want to be. The Travers means something. The Breeders' Cup means something. The other race is just about money."

Suffolk has a history of using bonus systems to lure big names to the track's signature race. Cigar earned a bonus for winning the 1995 Mass Cap and three stakes at other tracks earlier that spring. Skip Away won the Mass Cap in 1997 and 1998, taking advantage of added money for being a Grade 1 winner.

If this plan doesn't work, Suffolk may go back to the drawing board.

"Right now, like everybody, we're concentrating on what happens in the Belmont," Tuttle said. "After that, we'll keep our options open."

Churchill Downs officials have sweetened the pot for the Stephen Foster by $250,000 to $1 million, in an effort to make sure Curlin shows up and to drum up some competition.

Iavarone expects other offers for a Big Brown/Curlin matchup to materialize after the Belmont, but he and his team remain focused on Saturday's first step.

"I would think there's a lot of money that will be out there, but both horses have a lot of work to do first," he said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman