02/02/2007 12:00AM

No place like home for Breeders' Cup

Email

NEW YORK - Is the headline "Hong Kong Front-runner to Host 2009 Breeders' Cup"

a) The lead story in an April Fool's Day spoof edition of Daily Racing Form?

b) Fake news from the satirists at The Onion or The Daily Show?

c)An actual headline from the South China Morning Post, the largest English-language newspaper in Hong Kong?

Believe it or not, the correct answer is c. According to the Morning Post, Greg Avioli, the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., told the 776 international racing delegates at the Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong last week that the Cup was soliciting bids from not only 30 American tracks but also 11 overseas ones to host the 2008, 2009, and 2010 runnings of the Cup.

"Sponsors want exposure in Los Angeles but they also want it in Paris or Hong Kong," Avioli said, "and if we want the Breeders' Cup to be a major international property we have to be in the international marketplace. Hong Kong is on the list and would be one of the strongest contenders."

The story further quoted Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, chief executive of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, as saying that a Breeders' Cup in Hong Kong the last weekend in October would fit nicely into the local racing schedule, providing a "link" to their own Hong Kong Cathay Pacific International Races six weeks later. So the Breeders' Cup could become a nice little afternoon of get-one-over-the-track prep races for the real world championships in December.

Breeders' Cup Ltd. made no formal announcement of the possibility of a faraway Cup or of this new bidding process, but Avioli confirmed their existence Thursday in an interview in the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he added that "My strong recommendation is that we have a Breeders' Cup overseas."

This is not the first time that this trial balloon has been launched. Four years ago, a few prominent British breeders "demanded" that the Cup be run in their backyard sometime soon. The proposal gained no traction then, nor should this one now. Running the Breeders' Cup overseas is a completely impractical and misguided attempt to embrace internationalism that more than anything would be a slap in the face to American horsemen and racing fans.

For openers, how many of the American-based horses, who make up 90 percent of the Breeders' Cup fields, would make the trip? The Dubai World Cup, with a richer purse than the Breeders' Cup Classic, attracts only a handful of top American-based horses, not the boatload that makes Breeders' Cup what it is. The Juvenile races in particular would become meaningless: Who in his right mind is going to send a promising Derby prospect half a world away in October of his 2-year-old season?

Speaking of time zones, American racing fans would have to keep some pretty strange hours to watch and wager on the races, if anyone still thinks that's as important as exposing the brands of international sponsors. Hong Kong time is 13 hours ahead of New York and 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles. A 6 p.m. Breeders' Cup Classic in Hong Kong would have a post time of between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. in the United States, and moving it a few hours one way or the other doesn't really solve the problem. Also, while a primetime show in Hong Kong would expose the Mastercard or Hermes logos to additional Asian eyeballs, a middle-of-the-night Cup probably wouldn't do much for ESPN's domestic television ratings or American sponsors and advertisers.

Part of what is going on here is an attempt get more Asian money into American betting pools and vice versa, another major topic at the Racing Conference, so pretending to entertain the farfetched idea of a Hong Kong Breeders' Cup may in part be a means to that end. Otherwise, the idea makes less and less sense the more you think about it. What would really be achieved by a one-time move, other than a theoretical one-time increase in sponsorship money? Wouldn't seeking joint sponsors for better-connected international racing festivals more effectively gain global exposure than relocating a single event?

Hong Kong has not offered to run its Cathay Pacific races at Philadelphia Park nor is the Epsom Derby accepting host bids from Australia. Everyone likes the idea of global racing showdowns and world championships, but moving an American event halfway around the world at the expense of this country's horses and customers is not the way to achieve it.