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Bloodstock Desk: Breeders' prize loophole leaves top-level horses out in the cold.

Byline: Rachel Pagones

THE decision to reinstate the British breeders' prize scheme with funding from the Levy Board came as welcome news to breeders last year, after it was briefly removed during the summer, writes Rachel Pagones.

With sad irony, though, the decision meant little to Dorset resident Richard Mitchell, just the sort of small-scale, struggling breeder of jumpers the scheme is supposed to encourage.

"I'm still skint," says Mitchell, even though Rooster Booster, the best horse he has bred, won the 2003 Champion Hurdle. "That's because a loophole in the scheme excludes all hurdle races except those designated National Hunt, meaning the races are restricted to horses that have never run on the Flat.

While winners of a Grade 1 National Hunt novices' hurdle earn pounds 13,500 for their breeders, the Champion Hurdle - and the upper echelon of hurdle contests - are not designated National Hunt races.

Therefore, even though Rooster Booster meets all other requirements - he is the product of a British stallion and a British-based mare, and was raised exclusively in the UK - he does not qualify for breeders' prizes unless someone can convince him to win chases instead of hurdles.

The seeming vagaries of the prize scheme derive from the very philosophy on which it was founded: namely, that jumps breeders need more financial encouragement than Flat breeders.

While 60 per cent of the pounds 1.9 million earmarked for the 2004 breeders' prize scheme will go to Flat winners, with the other 40 per cent to jumps winners, the individual prizes won by Flat runners are far smaller than those awarded to jumpers.

The size of the prizes is based on minimum race values, which are determined by the British Horse Racing Board, taking advice

from the Race Planning Committee.

For example, the minimum value of a Class A Pattern race for

three-year-olds and up is pounds 50,000. This category includes the pounds 1.25m Derby, which, if it were won by a qualified British-bred, would be worth pounds 5,000 to the breeder, or ten per cent of the race's minimum value.

That is the same amount awarded to the breeder of a

Class B open handicap chase winner, and less than the prize for a Class A bumper race.

The disparity lies in both the minimum values and the percentage of these offered as breeders' prizes. The highest minimum value for a Flat race is pounds 50,000, while the highest for a chase is pounds 100,000, for a National Hunt hurdle pounds 45,000 and a for a National Hunt Flat race pounds 25,000.

The percentage of minimum value awarded to breeders is ten per cent for all Flat races, 25 per cent for most chases and 30 per cent for all National Hunt races (hurdles and bumpers). The percentage is reduced to 14 per cent for Grade 1 chases and the Grand National, effectively setting those prizes at pounds 14,000 - the most valuable in the scheme.

"If there was enough money and we could support all the races we would," explains Louise Kemble, chief executive of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, which runs the breeders' prize scheme.

"But the Levy has always taken the view that the hurdle races proper are entered by Flat horses, so they shouldn't carry a breeders' prize."

There is a catch to that reasoning, though. Horses who have made their first start in a Flat race are already excluded from the National Hunt portion of the breeders' prize scheme.

That means horses are being excluded from earning prizes for their owners a) on the basis of their bloodlines and b) on the basis of their talents, ie the ability to excel over hurdles but not in chases.

Both are dubious distinctions. Given that many leading jumps sires were bred for and raced on the Flat, it is hard to distinguish between "jumps-bred" and

"Flat-bred". Should we exclude the progeny of Flat-bred sires until they prove successful with their jumpers, or unless they cover a certain percentage of jumps mares?

Similarly, how do we designate a mare Flat- or non-Flat-bred,

given that she may have (Flat-bred) bloodlines loaded with stamina no longer in vogue in that realm, but sought after in jump racing?

Rooster Booster is a prime example of a horse bred to jump (although his sire, by Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner Riverman, was certainly intended for the Flat), who is best over hurdles.

Despite that, his breeder confirms "it's absolutely 100 per cent true we haven't made any money at all" with the champion, although his bumper-winning brother Cockatoo Ridge has brought in pounds 625 in breeders' prizes as a bumper
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2004
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