by John Piassek
A New WASHINGTON D.C. INTERNATIONAL?
For decades, along with the Preakness Stakes, the Washington D.C. International was the highlight of the Maryland racing calendar. It was created in 1952, as a way of getting foreign horses to run in the United States, a concept that had been unprecedented. In addition, the race would serve as a great way to promote grass racing in the U.S, a concept that was just starting to come into vogue.
The race attracted many big-name winners over the years. Bald Eagle, an American, was the first horse to win the race twice, in 1959 and 1960. The great Kelso earned his biggest grass win in the 1964 running, defeating arch-rival Gun Bow in the process. In 1983, All Along won the race en route to earning Horse of the Year honors.
As the years went on, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf took its place as the most important grass race in the country, interest in the Washington D.C. International began to wane. It still attracted its share of great winners, such as Eclipse Award winner Sunshine Forever in 1988 and 1994 Eclipse Awarder Paradise Creek. After Paradise Creek’s win in 1994, however, the race turned dormant.
Now, 22 years later, the Maryland Jockey Club is interested in reviving the event at Laurel. To say that the Washington D.C. International, in its revived format, would be a big deal would be an understatement. Indeed, it could immediately become one of the world’s most important races.
The model is similar to that of the Pegasus World Cup, which will be held for the first time at Gulfstream Park in January. Under the new format, each entry would cost $500,000. Even more interestingly, no more than one horse per country could enter the race. If ten countries want to participate, for example, it would be a ten-horse field for a purse of $5,000,000.
According to Sal Sinatra of the MJC, Laurel’s eastern location would be appealing to European interests for both the Breeders’ Cup and a revived Washington D.C. International. “‘Why not here?’ We’re halfway between Baltimore and Washington. We have great airports. We have one of the best grass courses in the world, which the Europeans would love. Given the work that’s going on here, we can put on a great experience”.
Laurel Park has already been making great strides in its racing in 2016. Handle on both Maryland Million day and DeFrancis Dash day approached the $5 million mark, representing significant gains from 2015. Tens of millions have been put into renovating both the grandstand and the stabling area at the track, with many more improvements to come. A big new Washington D.C. International would be an excellent yearly event for the track.
While the Breeders’ Cup often bills itself as the “World Championship” of racing, the international flavor this race would offer would be unparalleled and unprecedented. Imagine, a field full of horses from North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. It would be an all-star game of international racing. Sinatra also plans on having big recruiting efforts for the race: “I think this may involve us going from embassy to embassy and explaining the concept”.
Big things are ahead for Maryland racing. Getting a Breeders’ Cup would be big. Having a brand-new Washington D.C. International every year would be huge.