New Breeders' Cup incentives will boost European participation

In racing, Europeans tend to discover evidence of parochialism in the United States faster than you can say "Baseball World Series". But the real insularity comes in the failure, this side of the water, to grasp momentous efforts being made by the Breeders' Cup to justify its billing as the World Thoroughbred Championships.

Though so far received as little more than a bureaucratic footnote, there is a case for wondering whether the latest such initiative will prove one of the most significant in the history of the international sport. For with a single stroke, the Breeders' Cup has dismantled the barriers that have historically confined European participation to a minority blessed by unusual luck or resources. Up until now, overseas horses that were not nominated as foals – an utterly random blessing – could only be entered for an eye-watering supplementary fee. It could cost as much as $250,000 (£160,000 at current rates) to supplement a horse to the Breeders' Cup Classic. And this was even true of those that won the various challenge races which guarantee a starting berth at the Breeders' Cup – marketed, rather speciously, as the "Win and you're in" series.

Now all bets are off. Instead of leaving it to owners of each individual foal to find $500 to nominate, from 2011 the Breeders' Cup will automatically register all stock by overseas stallions whose owners pay 50 per cent of a single covering fee for each relevant crop. No stud farm with the faintest commercial self-respect will fail to absorb that expense. As a result, the organisers hope that overseas eligibility for the Breeders' Cup will soar from 1,200 horses to 20,000.

What is more, next year the "qualifying" programme will be exactly that. The winners will have their entry fees paid along with a travel bursary. This transforms the landscape for winners of several elite prizes in Europe. No longer need connections ask why they should pay so much to go to the Breeders' Cup when generous subsidies tempt them to Hong Kong and Dubai.

The timing of the announcement offers precious succour to the Europeans, just when it seemed as though conservative, vested interests in the American sport had fatally reversed the progress made over the past two years. Last month it was announced that the synthetic surface at Santa Anita – springboard to unprecedented European success at the 2008 and 2009 Breeders' Cups – is to be dug up, and replaced by the sort of traditional dirt track that has long seemed inimical to turf horses. Both this autumn and next, moreover, the series returns to dirt at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

To Europeans, the controversies over the new tracks – primarily their properties in terms of equine welfare – had seemed to show the best and worst of America. On the one hand, there were those ready to compromise, to assimilate other cultures in the hope of producing something better; on the other, some could not care less about the global resonance of what they were doing so long as they were comfortable with it (starting, you suspect, with the huge fees commanded by some dirt stallions). That the Breeders' Cup is prepared to again challenge the reactionaries – who immediately objected that the new nomination scheme was prejudicial to North Americans – represents evidence that the return to dirt at Santa Anita was only a battle lost, not a war.

Closer to home there are some decent midweek distractions today. Sandown and Yarmouth stage Listed races, while Listowel celebrates one of the first big chases of the Irish campaign, the Guinness Kerry National.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Sennockian Storm (5.0 Yarmouth) Far more scope for improvement than some exposed rivals here and a pedigree that entitles her to prove considerably better than her initial rating after a decisive maiden success last at Ffos Las.

Next best

Pausanias (8.10 Kempton) Well regarded colt who had little trouble running down a more experienced rival at Goodwood – the runner-up franked the form at Chester last weekend.

One to watch

Musnad (B W Hills) Has a fine pedigree and was last off the bridle on his debut in a hot maiden at Doncaster last week.

Where the money's going

Paddy O'Prado, winner of the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington last month, is 8-1 from 12-1 with William Hill for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Comments