12/23/2009 12:00AM

Little growth at racing's top end


At $6 million, the Dubai World Cup was once again the richest horse race in the world in 2009. While that comes as no surprise, it is indicative of an international malaise in Thoroughbred prize money at the top level.

The World Cup was raised to its current $6 million in 2000. After 10 years it remains stuck there with few of the races beneath it making much progress over the same period. The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which had its purse doubled in 2008 courtesy of the state of Qatar, moved closer to the World Cup this year only because of the strength of the euro vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar.

Japan, which dominates the Top 100 list with 51 races, has been static during the last decade with the exception of a few minor increases to selected races such as the Japan Cup. The same stagnation plagues the most valuable American races. Twenty-three of them made the list as recently as 2007. This year there are only 11.

By comparison, first prize in the U.S. Open Golf Championship increased from $4.5 million to $7.5 million from 2000 to 2009. Members of the 2000 Super Bowl champions received $58,000. This year they got $83,000. During the same period, individual NFL salaries went through the roof.

It is apparent that whether racing is financed through parimutuel systems, corporate sponsorship, government programs, the largess of princes, or any combination of these, Thoroughbred prize money is stuck in the mud.

A pair of Australian races did make substantial progress up the ranks this year. The Cox Plate and the Caulfield Cup were both the beneficiaries of purse increases in a nation where the sport is a bit healthier than it is in most other regions. That said, the Golden Slipper Stakes, at once the world's richest juvenile race and richest sprint, suffered a decline, dropping from ninth to 18th.

Europe placed 11 races in the Top 100, but four of them are races restricted to 2-year-olds sold at specific yearling sales at Goffs and Tattersalls. Horses sold at those sales are nominated by their breeders. Add those four "sales races" to the eight Breeders' Cup races on the list and one comes to the realization that the money in racing lies not necessarily with the betting industry, but with the breeding industry. With Ireland and Britain facing government-enforced purse cuts this year, the prize money situation in Europe looks bleak.

Parimutuel-driven Japan and Hong Kong dominate the list. Japan's 51 races, Hong Kong's 11, the UAE's 6, and Singapore's 1 mean that Asian races make up 69 percent of the total in the Top 100.

The Haskell Invitational jumped from 100th to 79th at $1,250,000, thanks to a one-time $250,000 increase made solely to attract Rachel Alexandra. The Preakness crept back into the list at 92nd place, thanks to a $100,000 boost to $1,100,000. The Woodbine Mile at $1,018,500 and the Delaware Handicap at $1,000,350 were eked out at 101st and 102nd. Eight other American races - the Arkansas Derby, Arlington Million, Belmont Stakes, Pacific Classic, Pennsylvania Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, Sunshine Millions Classic, and Travers Stakes - ended in a nine-way tie with the Godolphin Mile for 103rd place at $1 million even.

Four jump races, the Nakayama Daishogai ($1,635,281), the Nakayama Grand Jump ($1,537,987), Aintree's Grand National Steeplechase ($1,300,230), and Auteuil's Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris ($1,118,234) also cracked the million-dollar mark, bringing the grand total of million-dollar races to 115.