Each November, European racing casts envious glances at the cash-soaked glamour of the Breeders' Cup meeting in the United States, but we may be able to boast a more positive response from 1997. Europe's racing authorities yesterday revealed plans for a one-day meeting each September carrying at least pounds 2m in prize-money, a festival of the sport in Europe which would become one of the focal points of the entire Flat season.
The meeting is expected to rotate between the continent's five principal racing countries: Great Britain, France, Ireland, Italy and Germany, with the last-named a strong favourite to hold the inaugural event in two years' time. The timing has been carefully chosen, both to allow the meeting to be held, as far as is possible, in good weather and on a fair surface, while also avoiding a direct clash with the Breeders' Cup. Indeed, with at least a month between the two cards, it should be quite possible for horses to run at both.
Although planning is still at an early stage, a statement released yesterday by the European Pattern Committee envisaged four Group One races and two handicaps, with individual countries also having the opportunity to stage events of more local interest. Entries from each participating country would be limited in all events, even the handicaps, to allow a broad European representation.
The Pattern Committee referred to the event as the European Racing Day, although a slightly snappier title will no doubt be arrived at in due course. Since it will be scheduled each year to coincide with an existing meeting in the host country, the list of possible hosts when Britain's turn arrives will be fairly short, probably stretching no further than Ascot, the smartest track in the country, which already stages its own Festival of British Racing in late September each year. Doncaster, which hosts the St Leger meeting in early September, is another obvious candidate.
Since Ascot's own Festival may struggle to compete with its new European rival, this seems only fair, although other British tracks - Newmarket and York, for example - may feel aggrieved if they are left out of the reckoning.
"We'd have to be very careful it didn't act against other existing festivals," Paul Greeves, the British Horseracing Board's Racing Director, said yesterday. "The idea of building it on existing days should overcome that problem."
Where possible, current Group One events will be incorporated into the European Racing Day, but the Pattern Committee will also upgrade Group Two or Three contests on a one-off basis where necessary, or introduce new events altogether.
Support for the day will be provided partly by the European Breeders' Fund in an arrangement similar to that which provides the financial basis for the Breeders' Cup. However, significant contributions will also be expected from the host courses and a major - and as yet unknown - corporate sponsor if the ambitious target of a pounds 2m prize fund is to be met.
Clearly, much careful thought and planning will be required both before and after the next meeting of the Pattern Committee, in December, which will decide the venue for the first European Racing Day in 1997 (at this stage, Baden-Baden is the likely favourite). In time, though, the continent's racing industry may build a showpiece day of which it can justifiably be proud.Reuse content