With the Breeders' Cup having "changed the dynamics of fall racing," Laurel president Joe De Francis yesterday announced major changes for the International Turf Festival.
In an effort to attract top European runners en route to Breeders' Cup races, the festival was altered from five races in two days to six races over two weekends.
The most significant shift shortens the Grade I Washington, D.C., International from 1 1/4 miles to a flat mile to serve as "a major prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile, especially this year with the Breeders' Cup in California [Santa Anita]," said De Francis.
The International was run at 1 1/2 miles from 1952 until 1986 when it was reduced to 10 furlongs by De Francis' late father, Frank.
Lenny Hale, Laurel's vice president for racing, envisions European horses coming to Laurel to run in the International and the 1 1/2 -mile Laurel Turf Cup, remaining in training in Maryland, then shipping to California for the Breeders' Cup.
The International Mile and Laurel Turf Cup are scheduled for Oct. 23 and 24, respectively, two weeks before the Breeders' Cup.
"Our climate in the fall is like theirs," Hale said of the Europeans. "So they can beat the problem of bad weather [California heat]. And a mile is one of the most popular distances in Europe."
The purse for the International Mile has been reduced from $750,000 to $600,000, but the Turf Cup's purse is being doubled to a $200,000 guarantee.
De Francis said the large number of 1 1/2 -mile races being offered elsewhere in the fall also influenced the decision to reduce the International to a mile.
The Turf Cup was shifted from its former mid-November date because "we might pick up some who want to prep for the [1 1/2 -mile] Breeders' Cup Turf," said De Francis.
A pair of Grade III races for 2-year-olds, the Selima Stakes and the Laurel Futurity, will be held the weekend before the International, Oct. 16-17. The $250,000 Grade II All Along Stakes for fillies and mares will be held on International Mile Day and the turf festival will conclude with the Laurel Turf Cup and the $200,000-guaranteed Laurel Dash.