09/15/2005 11:00PM

NYRA's faux pas: Sacking the IRB


NEW YORK - The New York Racing Association's dismissal last month of the International Racing Bureau as its recruiter of foreign stakes horses is reminiscent of Laurel Racecourse's 1995 decision to kill off the grandaddy of all modern transatlantic races, the Washington D.C. International.

Since then, Laurel has descended to the status of a minor regional track, with primarily Maryland-bred and claiming racing. Will the sacking of the IRB by NYRA be the first step in de-emphasizing international racing at Belmont Park and Aqueduct in favor of the New York-bred program?

A look at last weekend's Belmont entries is not encouraging. Granted, two cards do not a trend make, but the absence of a single foreign invader in the Man o' War, the Woodward, or the Belmont Park Breeders' Cup Handicap at this time of the year does not bode well.

Only two foreign invaders found their way from Europe to Belmont last weekend without the help of the IRB. They were Luas Line and Asi Siempre, who finished one-two in the Garden City Handicap.

When NYRA sacked the IRB it wasn't merely dispensing with the recruitment services provided by the Newmarket, England-based firm of international racing experts. It was also casting aside the collateral work the IRB does in attracting foreign invaders to America. Foreign horses do not find their way into American stakes races merely by following their noses. In fact, European trainers have only a slightly better idea of the American racing schedule than American trainers have of the European schedule, which is to say, very little.

The IRB is able to pinpoint the type of European horse that fits into a particular American stakes race. The IRB can then guide the European trainer and owner through much of the paperwork, as well as inform them of the quality of competition their horse might be facing over here. Those services are no longer available to Euorpeans who might be thinking of a race in New York.

The dismissal of the IRB comes in the wake of NYRA's dismissal of racing secretary Mike Lakow, a man who sat on the International Classification Committee and who put the knowledge he gained working with that organization to good use. That expertise has now departed NYRA.

NYRA, however, believes it has done the right thing in going it alone on the competitive foreign front.

"Internally, we feel we can handle it without the IRB's help," said NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo. "Our stakes coordinator, Andrew Byrnes, does a wonderful job of contacting overseas trainers. He sent out 10 or 12 e-mails the other day to European trainers concerning Jockey Club Gold Cup Day, and we've already received two requests for invitations to the Turf Classic from [European trainer] Aidan O'Brien."

"We didn't know exactly what [the IRB] were doing," Campo continued. "We didn't know if they had contracts with other racetracks that might have provided a conflict with our races."

Given the increased competition for foreign horses in big autumn races, Campo is correct when he says that "it all boils down to timing."

However, there are more than 10 or 12 trainers in Europe who have horses eligible for races at Belmont and Aqueduct this fall. And while Campo is correct again when he says "there are only a handful of races at NYRA where we are looking for foreign horses," the same is true of NYRA competition at Keeneland, Woodbine, Santa Anita, and Hollywood.

Arlington Park still employs the IRB. It attracted nine European invaders for its three big races on Arlington Million Day on Aug. 13, in spite of stiff competition for the same type of horses in the Goodwood's July 30 Nassau Stakes, Munich's July 31 Bayerisches Zuchtrennen, the Curragh's Aug. 7 Royal Whip Stakes, York's Aug. 18 Juddmonte International, and Deauville's Aug. 20 Prix Guillaume d'Ornanao and Aug. 21 Prix Jean Romanet. Another client of the IRB is Woodbine, which has had two British-trained winners of stakes races this summer and is getting ready for a number of foreign invaders for the E.P. Taylor and the Canadian International, among them New Yorker Earle Mack's Electrocutionist, winner of the Juddmonte International. The Woodbine races will be run on Oct. 23 and provide no conflict with Jockey Club Gold Cup Day on Oct. 1.

The Breeders' Cup Ltd. continues to use the IRB's invaluable services. Indeed, what would the Breeders' Cup be without the IRB's help in bringing many of the top European horses to its international stage?

All the major European jockey clubs make use of the IRB's expertise in getting horses from one country to another for races of all kinds, from major Group 1's to mid-level handicaps. The Japan Racing Association and the Hong Kong Jockey Club also employ the IRB for their big race days, featuring the Japan Cup, the Japan Cup Dirt, and the Hong Kong International Races.

If NYRA thinks it can do without the IRB, more power to it. Just don't expect to see many foreign invaders of the quality of past Belmont Park Grade 1 winners Go and Go, Millkom, Daylami, Sulamani, or Buy the Sport racing in New York anytime soon, outside of this year's Breeders' Cup.