11/09/2007 1:00AM

Financial issues hurt BC participation

EmailNEW YORK - The soft ground, the tight turns, and the short stretch at Monmouth Park might be used as excuses for the poor showing of the European raiders at the Breeders' Cup, but the Euros were running under the same conditions as the Americans, so they really didn't have any excuses at all.

The traditional European lack of early speed, or, to put it more pointedly, the failure of some European trainers to teach their horses how to break from the gate promptly, was a bigger culprit in their lack of success. Had Aidan O'Brien schooled Achill Island and Excellent Art for an American-style start, each might have won his Cup race. As it was, they both finished second after making up gobs of late ground. O'Brien really is without an excuse in this matter, as the poor start of lead-pipe cinch Rock of Gibraltar at Arlington Park in 2002 cost him the Breeders' Cup Mile.

The ground, the configuration of the track, and the slow starts all fall under the heading of errors of commission. There is, however, a much larger foreign issue facing Breeders' Cup Ltd. which might fall under the heading of errors of omission.

Some of Europe's better horses avoided this year's Breeders' Cup not because of the nature of the Monmouth Park but due to the increasingly high price of running in the so-called World Thoroughbred Championships.

The Breeders' Cup is in direct competition with the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo on Thanksgiving weekend and the Hong Kong International Races (the Cup, Mile, Vase, and Sprint) on the second Sunday of December, as well as Woodbine's Canadian International and E.P. Taylor on the Sunday before the Breeders' Cup.

The Japan Racing Association and the Hong Kong Jockey Club not only subsidize the travel expenses of the foreign horses that run in their races, they pick up the airfare and hotel bill of the owners, trainers, jockeys, and exercise riders as well. The Ontario Jockey Club provides a partial travel subsidy for European horses running in the Canadian International and the E.P. Taylor. Compared to what a European owner has to to shell out for a horse to get to the Breeders' Cup, the savings involved in sending a horse to Japan, Hong Kong, or even Canada are considerable.

But that is only half the story. These are tough times for the U.S. dollar, which isn't nearly as almighty as it was four or five years ago. First-prize money of $600,000 in a $1 million race in 2002 was 700,000 euros or 360,000 pounds. Today those $600,000 are worth just 413,000 euros or 288,000 pounds. At the same time, the Canadian dollar has boomed vis-a-vis the greenback. Worth a little more than half a U.S. dollar five years ago, the loonie is now worth 92 U.S. cents. The Canadian International was worth $1 million Canadian or $520,000 U.S. in 1998 when it was run as a BC Turf prep three weeks before the Breeders' Cup. It is now a Turf competitor run just six days before the Breeders' Cup and is worth $2 million Canadian, or $1.84 million U.S. Thus a 100 percent increase in Canadian dollars translates into a 353 percent increase in U.S. dollars.

The Emirates Racing Authority also offers free transportation for foreign horses and their connections who accept invitations to run in the six big races on Dubai World Cup Night. Although the late March date of that event does not put it into direct competition with the Breeders' Cup, few European or Far Eastern owners are willing to send a horse to both the Breeders' Cup in October and to Dubai five months later. Given the financial breaks provided by the Emirates authority, many horsemen in recent years are opting for Dubai.

Of course there is nothing Breeders' Cup Ltd. can do about international exchange rates, but they are a problem that must be addressed as part of the larger global picture. One way Breeders' Cup Ltd. might ease the way of European horses to America is by chartering a couple of planes from Europe to the Cup site. Given the relative prestige of the Breeders' Cup compared to the Japan Cup, the Hong Kong Vase, or the E.P. Taylor, the resulting savings just might be enough to lure a few European horses away from the competition.

Breeders' Cup Ltd. did the right thing in adding three races and making the event a two-day affair. We got a taste of the rich flavor provided by short multiple-day meetings like Royal Ascot, Cheltenham's National Hunt Festival, and Longchamp's Arc Weekend as Breeders' Cup buzz started on Thursday evening, continued through Friday night, and didn't end until Sunday morning. Cup officials can keep the momentum going by adding a 1 1/4-mile turf race and, even more important, a turf sprint. The two days should also be split more evenly, with at least six races per day, climaxing with the Turf on Saturday and the Classic on Sunday.

With the Breeders' Cup restricted to cable television, there is no longer any reason to avoid a Sunday Cup. The embarrassingly small number of Cup TV viewers on Saturday will not be any smaller on Sunday, when TV ratings should be much better than Friday.