Racing launches world series

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The Independent Online
RACING is to have its own global Grand Prix series designed to establish an equine world champion.

Starting from the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot this July, there will be nine rounds, culminating in the Dubai World Cup in March 2000. The Emirates World Series Racing Championship will take in existing contests worth a minimum of $1m in Canada, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and America, and horses will collect points in a motor- racing format along the way.

The owner of the overall winner will earn $1m (pounds 660,000). The overall sponsorship package of $15m over three years will be the highest in the history of the sport.

The McLaren team of this Dubai-inspired competition will be the local squad of Godolphin horses, a string which is nurtured through the winter in the desert before attacking valuable prizes around the planet. Sheikh Mohammed is their team boss, Frankie Dettori the Mika Hakkinen on the horses which bear the royal blue livery.

"Racing needs this desperately as you look around and see us slipping in comparison with other international sports," John Gosden, Sheikh Mohammed's principal trainer in Britain, said yesterday. "You look at what football, cricket and motor-racing do and we have to compete on that level.

"We know you can't run in every race of this series, but we will end up with a wonderful champion, a horse everyone can talk about. It will be a veterans' game, competition between horses which are tough and well travelled, horses which can switch surfaces, horses which have proved themselves.

"But these aren't Formula One cars that you can keep putting new parts in, so there will be a strategy in deciding which end of the season to attack.''

The formation of a world championship has been brewing since the idea was first discussed seriously at the 1996 Breeders' Cup series in Toronto. It is imagined that the Grand Prix will be extended to up to 20 races, with races such as the Arlington Million (which will be run again when the Chicago track on which it is staged reopens) and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (currently without a sponsor) added to the roster.

If the scoring system had been in place for the last three years, the winners would have been the British-based horses Singspiel, Pilsudski and Swain. But it is now anticipated the Grand Prix will encourage American owners and trainers to be more expansionist.

If that hope becomes a reality then Bob Baffert, who has won two legs of the American Triple Crown in each of the last two years, will provide the Ferraris from the United States.

The trainer's only concern is the slight bias of turf races over those run on dirt. "I see a lot of green there and not a lot of brown," Baffert said yesterday. "But it's sure going to make us think. We need more challenges.

"If we were doing well in the points situation we'd have to think about it. That trophy would sure look good in Mr Lewis's [Robert Lewis the owner of Baffert's principal horse, Silver Charm] house.

"I've never run Silver Charm on the turf because I've never had any reason to. Now I do.''

As well as the cash prize, the winner will be presented with a solid bronze Trojan horse trophy for a year. Douglas Erskine-Crum, chief executive of Ascot, which begins the series with the King George, said: "The Emirates World Series Racing Championship is the most important step forward in the development of international racing that our sport has ever seen.

"The eyes of racing professionals and enthusiasts throughout the world will be focused on Ascot on Saturday 24 July, making it one of the most special and eagerly awaited occasions in the history of the Royal racecourse."

Racing, page 24

THE STABLES CHASING POLE POSITION

GODOLPHIN (DUBAI)

Pilot: Frankie Dettori

Horse power: High-Rise

Arab powerhouse based in Dubai. The Maktoum family used to get European yards to train their horses, but are now increasingly in-house with their private trainer, Saeed Bin Suroor.

BOB BAFFERT (UNITED STATES)

Pilot: Gary Stevens

Horse power: Silver Charm

Monopolised the Kentucky Derby for the last two years, winning with Silver Charm and Real Quiet. Currently vying with D. Wayne Lukas to be the USA's top trainer.

D WAYNE LUKAS (UNITED STATES)

Pilot: Jerry Bailey

Horse power: Cat Thief

Comfortably the most successful trainer in the history of the Breeders' Cup, racing's World Cup. Has saddled almost twice as many Breeders' Cup winners as any other stable.

GAI WATERHOUSE (AUSTRALIA)

Pilot: Glen Boss

Horse power: Juggler

Daughter of the legendary Antipodean trainer, Tommy Smith, she is a real character. Her husband is a bookmaker warned-off by Australia's turf authority.

AIDAN O'BRIEN (IRELAND)

Pilot: Mick Kinane

Horse power: Stravinsky

Trains at Ballydoyle, home of the great Vincent O'Brien. No relation, but is backed by powerful owners who are big-spenders at the international bloodstock sales.

HENRY CECIL (GREAT BRITAIN)

Pilot: Kieren Fallon

Horse power: Royal Anthem

Britain's most successful trainer of his generation. His Warren Place stables once housed a string of top horses owned by Sheikh Mohammed. The two fell out in 1995, but Cecil is still a force to be reckoned with.

ANDRE FABRE (FRANCE)

Pilot: Olivier Peslier

Horse power: Sagamix

Based at Chantilly, from where he has turned out five winners of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

THE NINE RACES

24 July: King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Ascot).

11 September: Irish Champion Stakes (Leopardstown)

17 October: Canadian International (Toronto).

17 October: Cox Plate (Melbourne)

6 November: Breeders' Cup Turf (Miami)

6 November: Breeders' Cup Classic (Miami)

28 Nov: Japan Cup (Tokyo)

12 December: Honk Kong International Cup (Sha Tin)

26 March, 2000: Dubai World Cup (Nad Al Sheba)

POINTS AND PRIZES

12, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 for first through sixth, respectively, in each race. The horse with the highest number of points will earn $1m (pounds 660,000) besides purse money.

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