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Values fall on Arc weekend; Opera and Arc the exceptions as prize-money continues to depreciate at Longchamp.

PETRUSHKA'S owners, when they receive their winnings from Sunday's Prix de l'Opera, will have good reason to be grateful the filly won the race last weekend and not five years ago, writes Howard Wright.

The Opera was promoted to Group 1 status this year, making their valuable filly even more precious, and forcing the French authorities to increase

prize-money to the appropriate level.

This year's total fund was nearly Ff1.2 million (pounds 114,000), compared with Ff680,000 for the previous four years at least, and that's where the Highclere syndicate was fortunate, because only one other Group race over the weekend, the Arc, was lifted in value.

But even given the increase, after translating those figures into pounds sterling, the true tale emerges.

And it is a horror story for France on a five-year comparison of exchange rates used by international racing authorities. Petrushka's Opera was worth 75 per cent more, in francs, than the previous year's, but just 27 per cent extra on the sterling conversion.

The Arc itself became a million-pound event for the first time, with a prize fund of Ff10.5m (pounds 1,008,000), of which Ff4m (pounds 385,000) came from the sponsor Lucien Barriere.

The other races marked time, but in real terms they fell away for the fifth year in a row. In sterling terms, the drop since 1996 adds up to a staggering 37 per cent.

The result is a boost for Britain, through a combination of the muscle-bound pound and a decision by the BHB to maintain Group-race values against international comparisons.

BHB racing director Paul Greeves says: "We set out with our limited resources to make sure that what's on offer to our owners and trainers matches, or where possible exceeds, the top races elsewhere."

The French have taken a different approach, though now it seems their trainers want race rewards put back at the top of the agenda.

France Galop director-general Louis Romanet admits: "Over recent years we've not put up prize-money for our Pattern races unless it came from the sponsors. Our main intention has been to put more prize-money into those races which provide the most betting turnover, and in recent years we have also developed a programme of premiums for French-bred horses. But it's clear that there is discussion in France about the level of prize-money in Group races."

Romanet also stresses the issue of modern currency. "The pound is going up and the US dollar is very strong, while the euro is going down," he says. "Perhaps one day you will join us!"

Both Greeves and Romanet agree that the future poses a huge challenge at the top level.

Greeves says: "Britain is doing well alongside the rest of Europe, but the game is moving on. The Far East, with its super prizes, will provide the next challenge."

Romanet says that France intends to maintain the concentration of major events over the Arc weekend.

Elsewhere, change is in the air. Talk in France of creating a new Triple Crown, involving the three top European Derbys, seems to be wavering. Apparently more than one French trainer has realised that placing the Prix du Jockey-Club last is likely to produce a smaller field and hotter competition for the locals.

But the rest of the calendar could be up for revision, especially for the top juvenile events, where the number of runners can regularly be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Romanet says: "We are making a complete review of our programme, which we hope to finish by the end of the year. We will probably make minor changes for 2001, and then see whether we want to make bigger changes the next year."

On the Arc itself, he notes: "The development of overseas races, especially in the Far East, means it is more and more difficult to get intercontinental runners in Europe. A lot of horses will have a second racing career at the end of the European season, because there is so much money to be won overseas.

"The international season during our winter will now go up to May, which is the time horses would be getting ready for the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup.

"We have a real difficulty with prize-money and the ability to keep horses in training in Europe. And the defeat of Montjeu won't encourage owners."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Wright, Howard
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 6, 2000
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