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EBF wary of surprise Breeders' Cup proposal

IT HAS been said that when America sneezes, Europe often catches a cold. That's certainly true of an intriguing sub-plotto the debate over future strategy for the Breeders' Cup.

A board meeting of the Breeders' Cup, held in Lexington, Kentucky, last week had high on its agenda "future host site options beyond 2010 as well as other aspects of the long term strategic plan including an expanded Breeders' Cup racing competition, and a revised nominations structure. "

It is the latter point that threatens to cause a major stir among the breeding community on this side of the Atlantic, in particular those involved in the European Breeders' Fund.

There currently exists a cross-registration agreement between the EBF and the Breeders' Cup that allows all EBF nominated horses to run at the Breeders' Cup provided their breeders pay a $500 surcharge by October 15 of the foal's year of birth, or $1,500 by December 15. In return, all foals by Breeders' Cup registered stallions can race in the valuable EBF series of two-year-old maidens if $500 is paid before May 1 when a horse is a yearling or $3,000 by February 15 of its two-year-old year, or $6,000 by June 6 of the same year.

The EBF was formed in 1983 and, according to its own website, "the EBF was intended to be not only a measure of self-help for European racing, but also a means of securing access for European horses to some of the benefits of the Breeders' Cup scheme through cross-registration."

It has five member countries - Britain, France, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland - all of whom must ensure that at least 70 per cent of its two-year-old maiden races are restricted to EBF eligible horses, which include those American-bred juveniles registered under the cross-registration scheme.

Thecross-registration agreement is a lucrative one for the EBF, yielding up to £600,000 a year. To lose such a sum would have "a fairly catastrophic effect" on its finances, according to one source. The British branch of the EBF would beparticularly affected, losing up to £400,000 in revenue.

So there was inevitably some disquiet when representatives of the Breeders' Cup earlier this year approached the EBF to explore the scrapping of the cross-registrationagreement. Horses qualified under the EBF scheme would no longer have to pay any extra to run in the Breeders' Cup; American-bred, Breeders' Cup eligible horses could run in the EBF races at no extra cost.

Such a proposal would also hit Breeders' Cup funding but it is believed its directors are looking at the wider picture. Concerned that it is losing out to other prestigious international meetings, the self-acclaimed ‘World Championship' wants to increase its appeal to overseas runners - including, it has been suggested, Asian runners from Hong Kong and Japan, whose involvement would boost ‘handles' at the meeting.

The Breeders' Cup proposal to scrap the cross-registration deal came as a surprise to the EBF and out of its member countries, only Ireland is thought to be particularly interested in further talks.

Significantly, the two leading stallion operations, Coolmore and Darley, account for over 70 per cent of Irish EBF nominations and the savings they would make between them on not having to cross-register for the Breeders' Cup would likely be a seven figure sum. Darley also accounts for around 30 per cent of British EBF income, which raisesaround £700,000 from domestic registrations, £400,000 from the US, and around £100,000 from a Levy on Irish exports of €90 a foal.

Breeders' Cup will make a final recommendation on a revised nominations structure in July but the EBF countries need to be unanimous in supporting any change. That is looking unlikely, raising questions about what impact a significant policy disagreement would have in the long-term.

It remains to be seen whether the Breeders' Cup itself will choose to opt out of the cross-registration agreement, but that would have a quite damaging effect on EBF funding, whose race sponsorship is worth over £1 million a year. The structure and distribution of EBF funds would inevitably come under review if it were to find itself £600,000 poorer.

Come what may, the fall out from America could prove to be quite considerable for Europe.





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