01/11/2002 12:00AM

Panel gives Ascot sprint a royal upgrade


NEW YORK - The European Pattern Race Committee has been busy tinkering with the status and schedules of a number of races of late, paying particular attention to Royal Ascot, Chantilly, and Hoppegarten.

As 2002 is Queen Elizabeth's 50th anniversary on the British throne, Ascot will commemorate the event by expanding the Royal Meeting from four to five days, Tuesday, June 18 through Saturday, June 22.

Saturday is the new day on the schedule, and it will feature the Golden Jubilee Stakes, formerly known as the Cork and Orrery Stakes. The pattern race committee has approved the name change for this six-furlong sprint and upgraded it from Group 2 to Group 1 status.

Royal Ascot will now have a Group 1 contest on each of its five days, but Dennis Erskine-Crum, the racecourse's chief executive, has been careful to note that the extra day is strictly a one-time event. In 2003 the Royal Meeting will revert to its traditional four-day, Tuesday to Friday format.

To flesh out its fifth Royal day this year, Ascot has made a number of new arrangements. The Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-olds moves from Friday to Saturday, as does the Queen Alexandra Stakes, which at two miles, six furlongs, 34 yards is the longest flat race in the world and has traditionally been the final course of the Royal banquet.

Three new listed races have also come into being: the Hampton Court Stakes at 1 1/4 miles for 3-year-olds on Thursday, the Wolferton Stakes at the same distance for older horses on Friday, and the Henry Carnarvon Stakes, commemorating the queen's late racing manager, a six-furlong event for juvenile fillies on Saturday.

The marked improvement of staying races in Europe during the last five years has led the Committee to upgrade the Henry II Stakes, a late May Sandown Park prep for the Ascot Gold Cup, to Group 2 status. In addition, the five-furlong World Trophy at Newbury in September has been upped from a listed race to a Group 3.

With Chantilly closing down after the June 9 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) for much-needed major renovations, all of its stakes races from that point have been shifted to other locales.

The Prix Daphnis and the Prix d'Arenberg will move to Maisons-Laffitte, while the Prix d'Aumale goes to Longchamp. The Prix Eugene Adam, France's traditional Bastille Day feature, is being switched from Deauville to Maisons-Laffitte, and the five-furlong Prix du Petit Couvert and the six-furlong Prix de Seine-et-Oise have exchanged places on the calendar. The Petit Couvert will now be run some three weeks before the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp, a sensible move, as it makes a perfect course-and-distance prep for the Abbaye, a Group 1 Arc day sprint.

France Galop has also announced a 10 percent increase in prize money for their 107 group races, with the biggest rises going to six Group 1 contests. The 2 1/2-mile Prix du Cadran and the five-furlong Prix de l'Abbaye go up 50 percent to $178,000. The 1 1/4-mile Criterium de Saint-Cloud for juveniles is up 40 percent to $133,500. The 1 1/4-mile Prix de l'Opera for fillies and mares rises by 34 percent to $222,500, while France's two classic "Guineas" miles, the Poule d'Essai des Poulains for colts and the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches for fillies, are now valued at $311,500, an increase of 31 percent.

Germany's troubled Hoppegarten Racecourse in Berlin has suffered a number of setbacks. The Europachampionat has been downgraded to Group 3 status, dropped in distance from 1 1/2 miles to 1 5/16 miles, opened to older horses, and switched form Hoppegarten to Frankfurt. Three of Hoppegarten's six listed races have also lost their black-type cachet.

But the pattern race committee's work is not yet done for 2002. A number of European racing officials are up in arms over what they see as the Breeders' Cup Limited's unilateral decision to run the Cup races on the last Saturday in October through 2005. This leaves just one week, instead of the normal two or three, between the Cup and Newmarket's 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes, an obvious prep for either the Turf or the Classic. Peter Player, Newmarket's chairman, has decried the Breeders' Cup decision, which was implemented largely to satisfy NBC's need for airtime to televise Notre Dame football.

The Pattern Race Committee will meet again in March to discuss the possibility of moving the Champion Stakes meeting a week earlier. If they do, it could have a domino effect, with Arc Day moving to the last Sunday in September, and Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes run eight days earlier on Sept. 21.

European officials have a point when they use the word "unilateral" to describe Breeders' Cup scheduling. BC Ltd. does not seem to be aware of the European schedule and how it affects its own races. In this day and age there needs to be cooperation between all major racing bodies, regardless of Notre Dame football.

One other adjustment on the French schedule is worth mentioning. Cagnes-sur-Mer, the winter home of French flat racing on the Riviera next door to Nice, has expanded its flat program to 15 days between Jan. 14 and Feb. 24, during which it will run an unprecedented total of 38 dirt races on its Fibresand course. A level, left-handed oval, Cagnes-sur-Mer could become an incubator for future American dirt stars, especially as top trainers Nicolas Clement, Robert Collet, Philippe Demercastel, Francois Doumen, John Hammond, Elie Lellouche, Henri-Alex Pantall, and Jean-Claude Rouget all have horses there this season.