Few things announce the start of Arlington Million week quite like seeing Alastair Donald back in the Arlington press box … or on the track apron … or on the backstretch.
The guy is everywhere.
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If there's a big race day coming up, whether it's at Arlington Park, or Hong Kong or Japan or Dubai, it's a good bet he'll be on hand.
Donald, who has attended every Million since 1989, is the managing director of the International Racing Bureau and serves as sort of a liaison between the European horsemen/media and racetracks throughout the world.
The native of Scotland sat for a quick chat about all things Arlington, from a European perspective:
Q. You are quite the traveling man. In a typical year, where in the world are you going?
A. In some sort of calendar sequence, I go to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and then we have a domestic meeting, then here for the Million, Istanbul, the Arc meeting, Breeders' Cup and then Japan and Hong Kong at the end of the year.
Q. This is the 30th running of the Arlington Million, and the fact that the Euros are still participating is a big deal. What keeps them coming back?
A. In Europe, Arlington is still considered one of the great international venues. Really, the only internationals on this side of the pond now are Canada, Arlington and the Breeders' Cup. And I think it's very important that America maintains its international profile, and Arlington's one of the places that's still doing that.
Q. What is the opinion of Arlington Park around the world?
A. One of the things people recognize about this place is that it's a great turf track. (Trainer) Dermot Weld describes it as the best turf track in America, and I think that's a fair description.
I think Arlington over the 30 years of the event, it's got a lot to do with Mr. D and his commitment to international racing that has made Arlington a memorable spot. It's well established in the European mindset.
A. Every year someone will complain that, "Well, the Europeans come in and win the money on Million Day, then go back home." How do you respond?
A. Sometimes it happens that way, and sometimes it doesn't. It depends on the quality of the local horses. My question, I suppose, would be: Why aren't more American horses coming in from out of town, from either the East or West coasts? That's one I can't really answer. I think America should be supporting this event.
Q. You obviously know the invading horses coming in for Million Day. Any horses people should watch for?
A. I think the Million this year is quite a wide-open race. I don't think there's a European superstar. I think they can all run well, but they're all beatable. In the Secretariat, I think Daddy Long Logs -- forget his run in the Kentucky Derby; I think he's a turf horse -- I think back here on turf he could run a very formidable race. And I think the French horse (Bayrir) is very solid. I think they could run 1-2 in the Secretariat.
Q. This year a new race -- the American St. Leger, to be run at about 1 mile and 5 furlongs -- will be a part of Million Day. Can you explain what it is and what it means to you guys?
A. Back at home, the St. Leger is run as the third leg of our Triple Crown. A few years back, the Triple Crown was the thing to which everybody aspired -- rather like yours, but you run yours in a much closer time frame.
Nowadays, because of other races available, the St. Leger is regarded slightly less as the be-all, end-all because winning (at that long of a distance) is considered slightly less important from a horse's stud valuation than it was a few years back.
I think it's actually very significant that Arlington now has this new race. I would hope this would be a "win and you're in" for the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
Q. (From Donald) Going back are there any European horses that I like?
A. In the St. Leger, Jackkalberry appears to have a few pounds in hand on the others, and he probably ought to be quite a warm favorite for the race.