02/08/2002 12:00AM

A Cup abroad? It's Euro trash talk


There will be a bit of discomfort in the ballroom at the Eclipse Awards a week from Monday, when three European horses who made only one start each in the United States are likely to be crowned as North American racing champions. There will be even more discomfort if the owner of one of them uses his acceptance speech to push for his nutty suggestion to turn the Breeders' Cup into the Ryder Cup.

John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, co-owner with Michael Tabor of likely juvenile champion Johannesburg, has proposed that the Breeders' Cup be run in Europe every other year. In addition, Magnier would be most appreciative if those Breeders' Cups that must still be run on the wrong side of the pond would kindly not be conducted in the beastly climes of California and Florida, which he believes are too warm for peak performances by European Thoroughbreds.

Both of these propositions belong in the dustbin with yesterday's fish and chips.

The Ryder Cup analogy is fallacious. That annual golf showdown is between two teams of American and British golfers. The Breeders' Cup is more like the Masters, an American event composed largely of American-based athletes with some distinguished visitors adding spice to the field.

Europeans have in fact been freeloaders at the Breeders' Cup since its inception. The two grass races, the Mile and the Turf, were conceived for their horses, as neither eight- nor 12-furlong grass races are exactly a staple of American racing. It would be more representative to have a filly sprint or a dirt mile than a grass mile, and the Turf would be a better race at 10 than 12 furlongs. These were cleverly calculated moves to attract foreign investment in turf pedigrees at yearling sales during the height of a bull market.

In addition, the owners of European horses never have to pony up the exorbitant supplemental fees facing South American and other foreign runners, thanks to an overly generous arrangement that makes them eligible for the Cup through the European Breeders' Fund.

Now the freeloaders would also like the party put on for them in their own backyard. It's as if a few Swedish tennis players did well at the U.S. Open and then demanded that the tournament henceforth be played in Stockholm in alternate years.

Astonishing arrogance aside, the idea would never work. So many American horses would stay home that the event would lose its championship quality. As for the American customers who wager $100 million on the event, would California horseplayers need to get their daily doubles in by 5:30 a.m. for a 1:30 p.m. post at Newbury? Would NBC forgo afternoon ratings for a "Breakfast from Britain" Breeders' Cup? Or would the results be randomized by asking what's left of the world's finest horseflesh to race under the lights for the first time in their lives?

Should we at least accommodate the Euros by permanently turning down the thermostat to ensure that their horses will feel right at home on blustery wind-whipped heaths like Belmont Park last Oct. 27? For people accustomed to so much bad weather, the British are certainly fussy about ours. Americans who train in Florida and California all year don't complain when the Cup is held in New York, Toronto, or on a cold day in Louisville, but every disappointing performance by a European seems to be excused by the temperature.

It's not clear that there's any truth to this, as most really good European horses, like their American counterparts, don't seem to need to carry their racetracks or air conditioners around with them. We've been hearing ever since Dancing Brave came up empty at 1-2 at Santa Anita

16 years ago that Europeans can't run their best unless they are 500 miles north of the nearest palm tree, but Lashkari, Last Tycoon, Miesque, Spinning World, and Daylami all managed to beat the heat and win Cup races in California or Florida.

If the Breeders' Cup were truly the "World Thoroughbred Championships" it is now calling itself, there might be a case for running the races in different countries. It isn't, however, and probably never will be. More than 80 percent of Breeders' Cup horses and well over 95 percent of the event's funding and wagering come from North America.

Perhaps one of the American winners should make a counter-proposal at the Eclipse dinner. Why doesn't the Continent follow our generous lead and put up some seven-digit (dollars, not Euros) purses with minimal entry fees, run at American-friendly conditions? A $2 million dirt race at

5 1/2 furlongs on the French Riviera in August might lure some American sprinters away from the Forego or Pat O'Brien.

Here's a promise to go along with that possibility: If American horses do well in that new race, we won't propose that it be run at Tampa Bay Downs every other year.