06/19/2008 11:00PM

Track may up purse as a lure for Curlin


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Arlington Park would consider boosting the purse of the July 12 Arlington Handicap in an effort to lure Curlin to Chicago for his next start, track officials said Thursday.

Trainer Steve Asmussen mentioned three possible upcoming races for Curlin in the wake of his victory last weekend in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, but on Friday basically narrowed that potential list to two: The Man o' War at Belmont Park and the Arlington Handicap, both on July 12.

The process of choosing the particular spot, however, lies in the future. First, Curlin will work on dirt Monday at Churchill, and if that breeze goes well, he will have a breeze the following Tuesday, July 1, on the Churchill grass course, Asmussen said. If Curlin strides over grass to his connections' satisfaction, a turf campaign could be plotted for the remainder of his season.

That phase of Curlin's globe-trotting year could take him first either to Chicago or to New York, but where the Man o' War offers a $500,000 purse, the Arlington Handicap is worth $200,000. And while Asmussen called such considerations "premature" on Friday, Arlington officials have given thought to making their race the most attractive option for Curlin, who is some $600,000 behind leader Cigar on the all-time earnings list. Churchill boosted the purse for the Stephen Foster by $250,000 to help cement Curlin's participation, and Roy Arnold, Arlington's president, said he believed Churchill Downs Inc., Arlington's parent company, would agree to a purse increase here if it would help assure a Curlin appearance.

"I have no reason to believe that Churchill wouldn't be 100 percent supportive of the opportunity to have the superstar of our sport race at Arlington," Arnold said.

"If Steve gets to the point where he's ready to ship Curlin in here," Arnold continued, "we will look at all our options for the racing program. We would look at the purse level, but we've made no determination yet on whether to make a purse adjustment. Hopefully we can convince him to come."

Nearly $80 million awaits distribution

It will be up to the Illinois Racing Board to determine how to administer the millions of dollars that could be made available to the racing industry in the state next month if four casinos in the state do not appeal an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in favor of racing interests.

There is close to $80 million in an escrow fund that has accumulated since the Illinois legislature passed a bill more than two years ago mandating that the casinos direct 3 percent of their adjusted gross revenues - a so-called impact fee - to racing. The casinos quickly filed a lawsuit contending the impact fee was unconstitutional, and a circuit court ruled in their favor one year ago. But on June 5, the state's Supreme Court overturned that decision. The casinos have 21 days to appeal the ruling, and so far have not done so.

While the legislation outlines how the money is to be split between different breeds, and between racetrack operators and purse accounts, it does not specify whether the funds should be applied retroactively or distributed going forward, and it will be up to the board to make such determinations, the board's attorney said this week.

"The Board has the authority to promulgate rules to administer the funds," said Shelley Kalita, the board's attorney.

There will be both a racing board meeting and a general membership meeting of the Illinois Thoroughbred Owners Association in early July, but the impact-fee funds might not yet be available for distribution when those meetings occur.

Seven-figure colt to debut Sunday

Desert Party, the $2.1 million sales-topping colt from this past February's Fasig-Tipton Florida select auction of 2-year-olds in training, will make his career debut in the sixth race here Sunday.

A son of Street Cry, Desert Party is owned by the Darley Stable and trained by Eoin Harty, who explained why Desert Party debuts in Chicago thusly: "The main reason he's there is because you guys have got a very good synthetic surface."

Desert Party has been training on Keeneland's Polytrack, and Harty said the plan is to keep the colt on synthetic tracks this summer. Desert Party, Harty said, could later join a string on the Southern California circuit.

Desert Party has posted eight Keeneland works, including a half-mile bullet from the gate on June 4. But Harty cautioned that Desert Party might not be suited to the 4 1/2-furlong distance of Sunday's race.

"He certainly hasn't trained like a super-precocious horse," Harty said. "But he's ready to run, and I don't believe in sitting on him."

Paperwork items noted

There are three accounting items of note on Sunday's program. First, a horse named Marksmilk Is White was mistakenly allowed to be entered in the ninth race. The race is for nonwinners-of-two horses, and Marksmilk Is White already has won two races. He will be scratched.

In race 3, a horse named Roboponi races for owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano, and handicappers will note that Roboponi was claimed from these same connections in his most recent start, on May 9. Claimed horses, however, are eligible to be privately purchased 30 days after the claim, and that apparently is the case both with Roboponi as well as with First Movement, who will start in race 4. First Movement was claimed from owner-trainer Larry Rivelli on May 10, won a race for trainer Denise Bennett on June 1, but races again here for owner-trainer Rivelli.