In an opinion piece sure to cause a stir among members of the powerful European Pattern Race Committee, particularly the British and Irish representatives, Hubert Tassin, an influential director of France Galop says that with Italy about to be excluded, the time is right for a radical change in the way the Pattern operates. This piece is translated from French with permission of the author. The original was published on April 25, 2014, and appears here.
Italy is facing exclusion from the European Pattern Committee (EPC). The news broke when Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the organization, issued a strong statement last month after an EPC board meeting. Kavanagh, who is CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, said the potential exclusion from next January of the Italian representatives was “extremely regrettable.”
No way for Europe without Italy
Italian racing will have to comply with conditions already laid down, such as the “implementation of a new system of payment for current and future races,” to avoid exclusion.
Yet, there is no such thing as Europe without Italy. It has the continent’s fourth largest economy – 75 percent the size of France, 80 percent of the U.K., and 60 percent of Germany. So, despite what some may say, it can remain a significant force in racing. European racing cannot really do without Italy. Today, in spite of the collapse of the system there, Italian breeders still send about 500 mares to stud every year, mostly abroad in Europe.
Even though it seems justified, the exclusion of Italy from the EPC underlines the drift of the organization since its creation in 1971. So significant is this drift that the members should now consider remodeling the EPC’s aims, its ambitions, and its procedures.
The Pattern standards were created to bring consistency
The Pattern was created to give the top horses in France and Britain equal chances of success. Prize money was already much higher in France for most races of the same class, so British horses were better treated in races that included penalties based on earnings. A classification in Group races sounded like a good idea to level the competition, and so the international classification of races was born.
Soon enough these Group races – and the horses that won them – became more valuable and more important, while Listed races (virtually Group 4 contests) were also named in the classification to emulate the American Stakes that were just below Graded status. Black type earned in these races emerged in the sales catalogues.
Soon adopted in many racing countries, these Franco-British standards allowed any racing jurisdiction to organize its own selection process, its own pyramid toward excellence. Yet, this classification was not an indication of the merit of each country’s own racing pyramid. A winner of the German Derby seldom bears comparison with an Epsom Derby winner, while the Milanese Copa de Oro cannot really compete with the Arc’s roll of honor.
Bringing some consistency to the international programmes, within Europe at least, was the logical next step. The idea was to allow a consistent rating for these black-type races. Therefore a Group 1 had to become a race in which the four first home in the most recent four renewals would reach an average rating of 115, a Group 2 would reach an average 110, and a 105 for a Group 3.
Return to each country the mastery of its own breeding progamme
It was a brilliant idea. Slowly but surely, as the board members changed and the handicappers debated, the philosophy of the organization changed. The placed horses in Group races now count as much as the winners, which has twisted the ratings by affecting the average more than it should. The EPC no longer stands up as it should for every country’s own selection process.
With this rather bureaucratic method, the Pattern Committee members were able to offer a ready-made framework to newcomers in the racing concert of nations, mainly in the Middle East and Far East. Yet, such nonsense as threats to the Group 1 status of the French Guineas or the Irish Derby were issued. This is how large chunks of some programmes were affected and sometimes undervalued, Group or Listed races being sacrificed to comply with the EPC’s standards.
Incentives to usher in a new era
Shouldn’t we use this opportunity to reform the European system? What about a return to the founding principles of the EPC? Rather than analyzing every race’s result, shouldn’t the Committee allow each member a number of eligible black-type races according to every country’s status in racing, its prize money for instance? Each member could then set up an attractive programme on its own, with some regulation as far as Group 1s are concerned to preserve the international calendar.
Rather than restrain, such incentives would open a new era geared toward the future. The American programme works that way and it seems to work better than the bureaucratic process of self-promotion at work in Europe.
Obviously, the idea might not prove popular with the British and Irish, who benefit the most from the actual process, sometimes - and mostly, one could argue - at others’ expense. But France, and every other member of the EPC for that matter, could take a new grip on its own destiny, as it already does with its jumping programme.
This is a translation of a piece which appeared in Tassin’s April 25 newsletter to French owners and breeders called Le grain de sel (“grain of salt" - referring to a French expression in which “add one's grain of salt” means “enter the conversation with a salty comment."
Tassin is chairman on the Province-Paris pour le Galop Français Association, which includes owners and breeders. For 20 years, this movement has regularly gathered about a quarter of the votes at every France Galop general assembly. Tassin has been a director of France Galop since its creation in 1995, and has since carried out many roles there. He is a specialist in racing programmes, both at national and European level, and was also a board member at the French betting operator PMU.