Putting the 'world' back into the Cup

Updated: June 26, 2006, 3:39 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

As much as I don't like soccer, I can understand why the World Cup is wildly popular. It's a battle among dozens of countries, with national pride at stake. Soccer fans around the globe have something to root fortheir team, their country. With the possible exception of the Olympics, there's nothing like it in sports.

In horse racing, we don't root for teams or countries or even horses or jockeys. I've yet to see anyone show up at the track with their face painted in the colors of their favorite stable or see John Velazquez riding his main rival, Edgar Prado. We root for a number. It might be the three in one race; the six in the next. Usually, the only horse that matters is the one we bet on.

That's one of the big problems with horse racing. How do you get people passionate about a sport when there's little to be passionate about? How do you build a fan base? Answer: Have a World Cup of Horse Racing.

There's nothing like that in racing. The Breeders' Cup attracts a handful of European horses each year, but rarely gets any foreign horses from outside Europe and it doesn't pit countries against one another. The same can be said for the Dubai World Cup races.

Here's how horse racing's World Cup would work:

A true horse racing world cup would have to include representatives from every country that has a significant quality horse racing industry. The participating nations could include the U.S., Canada, England, The United Arab Emirates, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. That's 15 countries.

Each country would have to put up $10 million to participate. How they come up with the money is their problem, but a stallion and foal nominating fee like the Breeders' Cup has in place is an obvious way to go. The money will go toward purses.

Like soccer's World Cup, one country will host the event on a rotating basis and it would be held every four years. (To hold it more frequently would create too much havoc for existing races and racing schedules). There will be eight races, all of them on the turf because turf is the surface of choice for international racing. The races will be run at six furlongs, one mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half and there will be one for each sex. The purse for each race will be $18.75 million, guaranteeing that everyone will want to participate.

Each country can enter up to three horses in every division. A series of elimination races without purses will be held three weeks before the big event. Fifteen finalists will emerge from each series of elimination races and take part in each final, championship races. Each horse will represent their country.

Points will be earned according to where the horses finish in the finals. The country that accumulates the most points will be the Horse Racing World Cup winner.

The countries would recoup some of their investment by sharing in the profits from the betting, which would be taken across the globe and dwarf the betting on any other horse racing event. Wagering will be taken on which country will win the overall competition, as well as what horses will win each individual race.

But these will be the rare horse races that are about something more than betting. Horse racing's World Cup can emulate the fan fervor enjoyed by soccer's World Cup. Racing fans and non-racing fans alike won't be rooting for the three or the four horse but for their countries and their countries' horses. Around the world, national pride will be at stake and one country will be crowned the greatest horse racing nation in the world. It's easy to imagine fans showing up waving flags and wearing the colors of their countries. It will be the most important horse racing event ever held, increasing the popularity of the sport everywhere.

Is it likely to happen? No. These sort of things aren't easy to put together and who's to say that countries will agree to put up so a princely sum of money. Could it happen? Why not? Horse racing needs to think bigger, especially here where fan interest is waning. Soccer did it and that's one of the reasons why a dreadfully boring game is so popular. Why can't racing?

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com