02/10/2006 12:00AM

Not all racing fueled by bets


NEW YORK - The reverence with which the American bettor is held in some circles is not necessarily shared by racing confraternities elsewhere in the world. There are places where betting revenues make up only a part of the purse structure and others where those revenues are a negligible factor in sustaining prize money.

Take for example the United Arab Emirates, where the sport prospers in a country where gambling is illegal. Attend any of Nad Al Sheba's 21 evenings of racing this 2005-06 season and you would place a bet on pain of having your hands cut off.

Yet the first 10 days of the Dubai Racing Club's International Carnival at Nad Al Sheba this season will consist of 76 races worth an average of $128,223. Those 10 meetings will be followed on March 25 by the Carnival's climactic Dubai World Cup night, when the seven-race card will be worth $21,250,000.

Admittedly, racing in Dubai is a special case, financed as it is by the largesse of the Maktoum family, with ever-increasing support in the form of corporate sponsorship. Yet in the world of realpolitik it must be acknowledged that racing in Dubai is prospering while many other jurisdictions in the world that rely on parimutuel wagering are having trouble making ends meet.

Britain and Ireland are two other countries where the reliance on wagering to supply prize money is not nearly as important as it is in America. While 80 percent of all monies wagered on racing in Britain are handled at off-course bookmaking shops, only a small percentage of that is returned to racing. Moreover, on-course bookies pay tracks only a standard fee to set up their stands, while the tote accounts for barely 20 percent of ontrack wagering. Much of the purse structure is made up through what appears to American eyes as extortionist admission fees, like the nearly $100 daily average that will be charged to enter the grandstand at this year's five-day Royal Ascot meeting.

In Ireland, racing has a cozy relationship with a government that has given the sport many breaks. And, as in Britain and the UAE, corporate sponsorship there plays a major role in funding. A majority of races in both Ireland and Britain are now sponsored, thus easing the pain induced by the relative pittance returned to the sport by the bookies and the ineffectual parimutuel systems employed there.

Yet prize money at the Group 1 and 2 levels in Britain and Ireland is the equivalent of what is offered at the Grade 1 and 2 levels in the United States. The Haydock Park Sprint Cup, a typical British Group 1 race, went for $438,000 in 2005, while the Yorkshire Cup, a 1 3/4-mile, Group 2 event, was worth $261,000. Below the Group 2 level, money in Britain and Ireland is inferior to that in America, but it has been improving in recent years while American purses have been static since the beginning of the new century.

Of course, there are parimutuel systems and then there are parimutuel systems. In France, where the system was invented, parimutuel wagering is decades behind the times. The French system is slow, and the powers that be are loath to exploit the possibilities offered by simulcast wagering. On the other side of the coin, there are the parimutuel systems in Japan, which produces maiden races worth $80,000, and in Hong Kong, where there are no races worth less than $70,000.

Aggressive marketing campaigns and judicious restraints on the amount of racing have reaped rewards for the parimutuel-backed purse structures in both Japan and Hong Kong.

The huge purses of the Breeders' Cup races can be credited as much to the nomination system as to the money bet on the races themselves, and are thus an excellent example of how to fund racing without relying on the fickleness of the bettor. But the Breeders' Cup always seems to be playing catch-up with Japan, Hong Kong, and, most importantly, Dubai, in the race for prize money supremacy. At $14 million, the Breeders' Cups of 2005 and 2006 are $7 million behind the six Thoroughbred races on the Dubai World Cup card, and there is reason to believe that Dubai will very shortly surge even further ahead.

Prior to Dubai Millennium's memorable victory in the 2000 World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed suggested that the Dubai World Cup card might eventually be expanded into a two-night carnival, a move that would necessitate the addition of at least two more Thoroughbred races which would surely be worth at least $1 million each.

This year, for the first time in history, there are two occasions when Nad Al Sheba will conduct racing on two consecutive nights. The first came this past week on Feb. 9-10; the second will be on Feb. 23-24. Are these occasions being used as dry runs for a colossal two-day World Cup extravaganza worth some $25 million?

In Dubai, where things tend to develop rather quickly, anything is possible.