Lengthy talks between the Breeders' Cup Ltd and the European Breeders' Fund (EBF) have culminated in a revised five-year deal after complaints from American breeders and owners that the Atlantic travellers were being unduly favoured.
The progeny of EBF-registered stallions conceived in the 1995-99 seasons (first eligible to run in the series as the two-year-olds of 1998) can now be nominated as foals for $500 and run for a minimum of $20,000 (£13,000), two per cent of the final purse. Those not engaged as foals, however, will have to pay a nine per cent supplement. That means $90,000 (£60,000) for five of the events, $180,000 for the Breeders' Cup Turf and $270,000 for the Classic.
These new terms, set out yesterday, were received with wailing and gnashing by those who feel Britain will have diminished hopes of adding to the victories of Pebbles, Sheikh Albadou and Barathea at Churchill Downs in Kentucky three months ago, their only three successes in 11 Breeders' Cups. Yet it can be argued that the escalation in costs will be felt most by the people most capable of taking it, the wealthy Arab owners.
All three of the British winners have been Arab owned, and each year the contingent from these shores is largely representing the interests of the Maktoum family and Khalid Abdullah. One man who is not in this league (but, who, as the head of a flourishing aircraft interior manufacturing company, hardly has to put an upturned hat on the ground either) is Jeff Smith, the owner of Lochsong, who ran in the Sprint in November.
The mare's breeding is not far from plebeian and if Smith had had the skill to foresee her future capabilities from a pedigree chart he would not still be working. He would be winning the pools every week. "I would have been a genius to have entered her as a foal," he said yesterday. "In Lochsong's case we would have had to think twice about going last year because the distance, and dirt, was against her. The costs wouldn't just stop at $90,000. There is the horse, trainer, owner and lads travelling to be paid for.
"This can only reduce the number of runners from Europe, but if a horse like Celtic Swing does everything asked of him then connections would probably still have a crack."
This news has put further energy into speculation that a European Breeders' Cup could be launched, as early as 1997 in Germany. "We've certainly given our support to the principle of a European raceday, but that's very much at an embryonic stage," Michael Wates, the EBF co-ordinating committee chairman, said yesterday. "We are very much in favour of international racing and it would be a pity if the Breeders' Cup does not retain its international element."
Wates played down the significance of the new entry system. "There are those in Europe who will inevitably say that nine per cent is far too much to pay as a supplement," he said. "My answer to them is that nine per cent is a great deal less than the 20 per cent it might have been.
"We have to accept that we negotiated exceptional terms in previous years, but those terms are no longer available. The playing field has been levelled. But I'm not in favour of the meeting becoming a rich-man's club." It already is.