12/19/2001 12:00AM

Europe in July seems so inviting


Louisville, Ky. - Like many people, I am intrigued by international competitions. Maybe it's my patriotism or maybe it's my competitiveness.

Whatever the reason, I won't be able to get enough of the Olympics this winter - even though my knowledge and understanding of winter sports is lacking.

This has me wondering, if our country can get behind events in the Olympics that normally hold little interest, couldn't the public become more interested in horse racing if the sport became more involved in international competition?

It seems reasonable to think so.

So when I see Coolmore Stud's John Magnier calling for the Breeders' Cup to stage its World Thoroughbred Championships in Europe in alternate years, I can't help but be excited about the idea.

There's only one problem - the timing of it wouldn't work if the races were run in the afternoon.

Let's say the World Thoroughbred Championships were held near London, at a track that offered both a turf and a dirt course. (Magnier has proposed adding a dirt course to an already existing grass track.) And let's envision a date set for late October.

With the sun scheduled to set at 5:45 London time, the first championship race would need to go off by 1 p.m. and the last by 5:15 p.m. or so. Otherwise, fans could end up watching the Classic in the dark.

Now the bad news. The time difference between England and the East Coast is five hours, and between continental Europe and the East Coast it is six hours. If the first World Thoroughbred Championship race is at 1 p.m. London time, that means the live simulcast would take place at 8 a.m. on the East Coast, and 5 a.m. out West.

Only paperboys and horse trainers are up at those hours.

If racing took place at this time, ratings would plummet. Handle would drop. And the World Thoroughbred Championships would risk losing fans, instead of creating them.

This isn't the Ryder Cup or the British Open. Racing shouldn't be broadcast on tape. It isn't like other sports because the participants aren't merely on the track, they are also in the stands and in the simulcast parlors.

Bettors fuel the game. They create the odds, they establish the handle, and through their wagers, they pay for purses.

Therefore, decisions about racing need to be made foremost with the bettor in mind. Unless a night-racing option is available - similar to what takes place in Dubai - a World Thoroughbred Championships in Europe seems like a losing bet for American horseplayers.

Southwell, a Nottingham track with lighting, has a dirt and turf course, but for the Championships to be staged in Europe, it would probably need to be at track that could accommodate a massive crowd - like Epsom or Ascot.

Rather than staging the World Thoroughbred Championships in Europe, I would rather see a separate event take place in the summer. Create a few international races - perhaps a sprint, a distance turf race, and a 1 1/4-mile dirt race - then run them within an hour and a half.

This would make for good television, and even better handle. It is light until after 9 p.m. in the summer in London, which would create the opportunity for the races to take place between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. This would put it in prime time in Europe - and here it could be shown live at 2 p.m. on the East Coast, and 11 a.m. on the West Coast.

This would expose racing to a tremendous number of fans, and perhaps even generate some new ones.

It would also be more comfortable for the fans attending the races overseas. The average temperature in London in late October is 55 degrees. In July it is 71 degrees.

The courses, both dirt and turf, would also be fair during the summer. July is the driest month in London. October is one of the wettest.

My reluctance to hold the Championships in Europe isn't a case of being scared of the European horses, or being greedy and not wanting to share a spectacular day of racing.

Actually, I am scared of the European horses, but it's the timing, not the competition, that has me troubled.

I would expect them to win 90 percent of the turf races, and half of the dirt races in international racing overseas. My respect for them is enormous. Think of what they have accomplished the last couple years - winning the Juvenile with Johannesburg, taking a slew of turf events, and twice narrowly missing in the Classic.

I look at our horses, and think, could we have done that? As painful as it is to admit, the answer is no.

American trainers are reluctant to ship their horses from New York to California, much less to another country thousands of miles away. But events such as the Dubai World Cup are changing that mindset, and additional international races would also do that.

I look forward to the day when an American horse ships over to Europe, and beats them at their own game. I just want to be awake to see it.