04/09/2009 11:00PM

British getting their season in gear


NEW YORK - After two and a half weeks of hemming and hawing at minor venues, the real British flat racing season finally gets under way at Newmarket on Wednesday with the two-day Craven Meeting, the site of the first meaningful preps for both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas.

Wednesday's feature is the Nell Gwyn Stakes, a seven-furlong trial for the one-mile 1000 Guineas. Named for King Charles II's Newmarket lover, for whom the 17th century monarch built a tunnel from her bedroom across the street to his bedroom, thus facilitating and privatizing their midnight trysts, the Nell Gwyn will see the seasonal debut of Fantasia. Recently purchased by George Strawbridge after her second-place finish to the same owner's Rainbow View in the Fillies Mile in September, Fantasia will very likely travel next to Longchamp for the French 1000 Guineas on May 10, leaving the way clear for Rainbow View's first run of the season in the Newmarket Guineas on May 1, where she will meet the Cheveley Park Stakes winner Serious Attitude in her own seasonal debut.

Both the Nell Gwyn and Thursday's Craven Stakes, Newmarket's one-mile course-and-distance 2000 Guineas prep, are in danger of being eclipsed by a restricted race on Wednesday card. The $587,000 Tattersalls Trophy is the 3-year-old version of the Tattersalls Million for 2-year-olds, which was won last year by the subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Donativum. The Million runner-up, Crowded House, went on to win the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, while the Million's fifth-place finisher, Mafaaz, has since guaranteed himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

This type of race, limited to horses sold at a specific yearling sale, has its Irish equivalent in the Goffs Million. With each passing year, their huge purses are drawing more and more horses away from group races, especially at the juvenile level.

Sheikh's horses test positive

Trainer Mubarak bin Shafya excited the world when he saddled Gladiatorus and Eastern Anthem to win a pair of $5 million races on Dubai World Cup night. Now he has excited the attention of the International Equestrian Federation after two of the Arabian horses he trained to win an endurance race in Dubai during World Cup Week tested positive for banned substances.

To make matters worse, the horses in question were both owned and ridden by none other than Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, where raceday medication of any kind is strictly forbidden, be it in endurance races, camel races, or Thoroughbred races.

Moreover, the president of the equestrian federation is Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya of Jordan. Sheikh Mohammed denies any knowledge of the business and has condemned the application of the drugs, which are the blood pressure stabilizer guanabenz and the growth promoter 16b hydroxy-stanozol. Bin Shafya, too, denies any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Princess Haya, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, has stepped down, at least temporarily, from her position as the federation's president.

NBC show a fine example

The virtual blackout of racing on network television in America was lifted briefly last Saturday when - lo and behold - not one, but 2 1/4 races were televised by NBC.

Not only did we get the complete running of both the Santa Anita Derby and the Illinois Derby, we also saw the stretch run of the Wood Memorial. Casual viewers who happened to stumble across the telecast will be forgiven for wondering why any of the participants failed to tackle their more forwardly placed rivals, or why there were no striped shirts on the field of action directing traffic. They may be equally confused on Kentucky Derby Day when they are treated to 118 minutes of blather and commercials wrapped around a single two-minute race.

Last Saturday, NBC came perilously close to producing the template for the way racing should be televised to a general audience. A one-hour program featuring the big stakes and a lesser stakes, interrupted by a five-minute hiatus for a stakes at another track, fills out a 60-minute segment quite nicely. Such scenarios present themselves almost every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year, but remain unseen and unknown to the general public. We should have more such programs, and now is the time for the industry to take advantage of Saturday's telecast, as Major League Baseball, the NBA, and college football appear to be slowly disengaging themselves from network television.

What is to prevent the sport's heavy hitters - the Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, Churchill Downs, Magna Entertainment, the New York Racing Association, and other interested tracks, sales companies like Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton, plus the major racing publications - from pooling their resources and recruiting a group of telecast sponsors in an effort to convince NBC - or ABC or CBS or Fox - to produce a similar racing show every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year?

The naysayers will bray loudly that it is unfeasible, but unless we give it a try, racing will continue to wither on the vine in this country. After last Saturday's show, my second question, and perhaps the question of millions of other viewers, is: Why were the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby not televised by a major network this Saturday?