12/07/2001 1:00AM

Breeders' Cup in Europe? Well, why not?


Coolmore Stud's John Magnier may be onto something.

He believes the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships should be held in Europe in alternate years. Magnier and co-owner Michael Tabor won this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Johannesburg, their first success in a Breeders' Cup race.

"This requires the closest cooperation and necessary funding from racing's authorities on both sides of the Atlantic for the common good of a global sport," Magnier told The Racing Post. Even if the event continues to be held in North America, Magnier said, it should avoid hot and humid sites like Florida and California, which turn the challenge for European entrants into "something approaching mission impossible."

Newbury racecourse manager Mark Kershaw has a similar plan. He is using a potential Breeders' Cup-style event as a lure in calling for the installation of a $5.7 million all-weather dirt track at his facility in the south of England. Magnier did not specify a particular track or country, saying "existing racecourses could be developed in France, England, or Ireland, or a new course built."

Magnier's idea may be as important as John Gaines's original idea for the Cup. Sure, some horsemen will throw a fit. But as the saying goes, "Build it and they will come." If the purses are built up even more, to rival the Dubai World Cup program, I guarantee the top American trainers will be making travel arrangements.

But Magnier's most compelling argument was likening a potential transatlantic Breeders' Cup to golf's Ryder Cup. "The Ryder Cup attracts interest from people who are not just interested in golf and it would be wonderful if we could have a similar situation with racing," he said.

He's right. The Ryder Cup has become a huge marketing event worldwide. Two decades ago you never saw Ryder Cup hats. Now, when you're on the golf course, you can't swing a club without hitting somebody who is wearing one. Today the Ryder Cup's ratings rival some of the best numbers football can put up. Horse racing keeps looking for the plum that will bring the general public to its show, and this may be it.

The onus has always been on the Europeans to ship, to adapt, and to change how they race, even to the point of upsetting the old European pattern races schedule. The American horses and horsemen can adjust, too. They have adjusted to the Breeders' Cup. They have adjusted to Dubai. Many more are going to those huge races in Japan and Hong Kong. They will adapt.

Of course, just because one of Europe's leading owners wants it, doesn't mean the rest of Europe does. Do you think Longchamp wants to see Arc weekend, the customary climax of the flat racing season, reduced to being a Breeders' Cup prep weekend? Do you think the powers that be want to move the Irish Champion Stakes to accommodate a largely American novelty? It's one thing to bring McDonald's to the Champs Elysees, it's another to tell the French to move the Louvre over a block.

But there remains a broader problem. While Americans like the notion of the Breeders' Cup as a "world championship" event, let's face it, it's devised for American-based horses and American breeders. A percentage of American stars will certainly not go to a Cup in Europe. The European horses at that event would probably outnumber their American counterparts. That may be good for the world championships, but can it be good for the American breeding industry, which is really what the Cup was devised to help?

Some serious thought must occur before we say "Lingfield here we come" in 2010. But the idea is ripe with potential, and deserves more than a passing glance and the typical American response to changing the racing landscape: "Yeah, whatever."