12/29/2006 1:00AM

Dubai offers three most lucrative purses


NEW YORK - The United Arab Emirates was the site of the three richest races in the world in 2006 as purse increases of $3 million to the Dubai Duty Free and the Dubai Sheema Classic brought both stakes to within $1 million of the world-leading $6 million Dubai World Cup. All three races are run at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai on Dubai World Cup Night, which remains the world's richest race program with total Thoroughbred prize money of $21 million.

Such is the competition at the top of the world table that an increase in total purse money of nearly $290,000 saw America's richest race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, drop from second to fourth place. The Japan Cup and the Melbourne Cup also dropped two notches each despite healthy purse increases. The Kentucky Derby, which stood pat at $2 million plus nomination fees, slipped from eighth to 17th.

Despite seeing many of its most valuable races drop in the standings due to the weakness of the yen, Japan still has the most races in the top 100 with 41 making the list. Of those, 37 are run under the auspices of the Japan Racing Association (JRA), four by the National Association of Racing (NAR). Two of the JRA's 37, the Victoria Mile and the Hanshin Cup, were new to the calendar this year.

The biggest advances were made by three Breeders' Cup races. An influx of $1 million enabled the Filly and Mare Turf to move up from 97th to 25th. Similar increases moved up the Sprint from 97th to 30th, and the Juvenile Fillies to from 97th to 36th.

The richest new kid on the block is the Goffs Million. The one-mile Curragh race restricted to 2-year-olds sold at the previous year's Goffs Million yearling sale checked in at 23rd place at $2,032,640. It is now the third richest race in Europe behind the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which displaced the Epsom Derby as the most valuable European horse race.

That a restricted race such as the Goffs Million should be worth more than three times as much as major European contests such as the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Champion Stakes might be interpreted as a worrisome trend. If so, it is one reflected in America, where relatively insignificant events such as the Delta Jackpot and the restricted Sunshine Millions Classic are all worth a quarter of a million dollars more than the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Next behind Japan in the top 100 comes the United States with 23 races, an increase of three over 2005. A robust Hong Kong Jockey Club places 11 on the list, while Australia has eight, the UAE six, France and Ireland three each, Britain two, and Canada, Italy, and Singapore one each. Asia maintains a healthy continental lead of 59-24 over North America with Europe a distant third at nine.

The Grosser Preis von Baden failed to make it into the top 100 for the second year in a row, coming in 103rd at $965,250, but Germany will be represented on the list next year with the recent announcement that BMW will sponsor the 2007 German Derby to the tune of one million euros, or $1.35 million.

Thirteen races, 12 of them run in the U.S., were worth exactly $1 million in 2006, the lot of them finishing in a tie for 86th place. Two years ago, a $1 million race rated 77th on the list, while last year it would have been 81st, suggesting that in a few years' time a race worth a flat million will not make it into the top 100.

The Nakayama Grand Jump maintained its position as the world's richest jump race at $1,296,389. Aintree's Grand National Steeplechase moved into a closer second at $1,226,960 with Auteuil's Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris third at $918,000, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth at $702,720.