x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Efforts made to halt the exodus from British horse racing

The likes of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid are moving fast to stem the export of horses from Britain.

LONDON // The fanfare at Ascot on Saturday for the inaugural British Champions meeting will not hide the fact that this is the final roll of the dice for British racing at an elite level.

Trainers have been desperate to underline how important the richest card ever staged in Britain is to the sport here.

There is deep feeling that without Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's grand idea, the steady trickle of exported horses from Europe to the Far East, America, Australia and Dubai will turn into a deluge.

John Gosden, who runs Nathaniel in the Champion Stakes this afternoon, joined Sir Henry Cecil this week to back the initiative wholeheartedly.

Simon Crisford was the latest to add weight to the theory that the Ascot showpiece is essential for the maintenance of the sport in Britain.

"It matters enormously," said Godolphin's racing manager. "Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid] loves British racing and he knows there was an urgent need for this. In autumn, we have champion horses all dressed up and ready to go. Why should they all have to run overseas, rather than having a platform to compete here?"

British and European horses have always been cherry-picked for racing round the world.

A 300-year-old breeding industry produces some of the best thoroughbreds, but due to dwindling prize money it has made sense for owners to sell or race abroad. A horse such as Presvis, who cannot win in England but can scoop the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan Racecourse, is the proof of the matter.

Figures published by the Hong Kong Jockey Club highlight how quickly owners in the special administrative region have realised that due to the drop in the value of the pound they can pick up highly rated horses on the cheap.

Five years ago, 20 thoroughbred racehorses were exported to Hong Kong; last season that figure had jumped to 60.

The exodus has continued this season, and Sheikh Fahad was subject to a raid last month that prompted him to sell Frederick Engels, his first Royal Ascot winner.

"We took a view of his potential as a stallion and when the offer was made, which is for a considerable amount, we decided it was in our best interest to accept the offer," said David Redvers, Sheikh Fahad's bloodstock adviser.

"Sheikh Fahad has always maintained that he's running a commercial operation and every horse has its price."

Sheikh Fahad has indicated that his interest in British racing is not a passing fancy.

He revealed this week that he has a five-year breeding plan as well as an intention to remain in the sport for "the long term".

The investment in British racing by the Al Maktoum family is vast. With Qatar also now involved both in Britain and France it would seem that all is rosy in Europe. The revamped Champions Day has now joined the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe card at Longchamp as a form of protectionism for the sport in Europe.

With racing jurisdictions around the world increasingly reliant on British and European horses it remains to be seen whether these initiatives can stem the tide.

sports@thenational.ae

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