10/27/2006 12:00AM

Cup not big enough for the world yet


NEW YORK - In a changing world it is dangerous to stand still, as someone is liable to sneak up from behind and knock you off your perch.

That is the position in which the Breeders' Cup finds itself as the countdown to its 23rd running begins. While the Cup stands as the best idea in American racing since its inception in 1984, it has failed to meet the growing international challenge that has encroached upon it over the last decade. The progress made by late season international carnivals such as Longchamp's Arc Weekend, Newmarket's Champions Day, Tokyo's Japan Cup Weekend, and Sha Tin's Hong Kong International Day attract horses away from the Breeders' Cup every year. Even Australia's Spring Festival, a three-track carnival in Victoria that includes the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate, and the Melbourne Cup, lands European horses who would make perfect fits for the BC Turf or the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

It was a timely move to raise prize money this year so that no Breeders' Cup race will be worth less than $2 million, but the Cup still lags behind Dubai World Cup Night in total purses, $21 million to $20 million, and in average purse per race, $3.5 million to $2.5 million. Those gaps will increase when, sooner rather than later, the Emirates Racing Authority announces plans to expand World Cup Night into a two-evening carnival, adding races like a UAE Oaks, a turf sprint, and a filly-and-mare turf race to its revised program.

To avoid being caught flat-footed, Breeders' Cup Ltd. would do well to consider additions to its own program, not least its expansion into a two-day meeting. Multiple-day meetings are cash cows in Europe. Witness the five days of Royal Ascot, Cheltenham's four-day National Hunt Festival, the five days of Glorious Goodwood, and the weeklong Galway Festival. The longer there is first-class action on the track, the longer the punters stick around at the betting windows, the bars, the hotels, and the restaurants.

A two-day Breeders' Cup (see chart) would have the added benefit of attracting more foreign-trained runners as well as reflecting the changing needs of an increasing number of American horsemen.

The addition of three races at sprint distances would reflect the ever increasing number of races run in America at seven furlongs or less. Many 2-year-olds, bred exclusively for speed, never advance beyond six furlongs, so a Juvenile Sprint would suit them. A Distaff Sprint at seven furlongs would add a new distance to the Cup and provide female sprinters with a race in which they wouldn't be forced to knock heads with males. And a five-furlong Turf Sprint would take into account the recent increase in sprint racing on grass.

A Turf Sprint would also attract some of Europe's leading sprinters, as would a one-mile Juvenile Turf race. None of Timeform's top 125 European 2-year-olds gave either the Juvenile or the Juvenile Fillies a look-see this year. A $1 million Juvenile Turf might have attracted the attention of Teofilo, Holy Roman Emperor, or Dutch Art, Europe's three leading 2-year-olds.

A Breeders' Cup turf race at 1 1/4 miles would benefit not only the Europeans but Americans, as well. Horses like The Tin Man and Showing Up fall into a gap between the Mile and the Turf. A Cup race at 1 1/4 miles would fulfill their aching need for a $2 million race.

A one-mile race on dirt for 3-year-olds and up would serve an even greater need, since many main-track horses fall into the no man's land between the six furlongs of the Sprint and the 1 1/4 miles of the Classic. A Dirt Mile would have been a perfect fit for a budding superstar like Discreet Cat, who, barring an injury to Bernardini, will skip the Cup and point instead to Aqueduct's Cigar Mile on Nov. 25.

Only three of Timeform's top 20 3-year-olds (George Washington, Araafa, and Aussie Rules) will be at Churchill Downs next Saturday, and only three of Timeform's top 20 older horses (Hurricane Run, David Junior, and Scorpion) will be there. Good Europeans like Yeats and Imperial Stride opted for Australia. Arc runner-up and Champion Stakes winner Pride is headed to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Cup. The exciting bargain basement turf sprinter Takeover Target has run and won in Australia, England, and Japan this year and will go in the Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 10, but the U.S. has never been on his agenda. Japan's leading lights, Deep Impact and Heart's Cry, have both run in Europe this year, but the Breeders' Cup was never in their plans. The same goes for every other horse trained in Japan. England's leading sprinters, Les Arcs and Reverence, never had the Sprint under consideration, and the world's best 2-year-olds continually shun the Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies.

If the Breeders' Cup would like to live up to its currently hyperbolic subtitle of "World Championships," changes are in order.