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International news round up - stories from the world of racing

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Kempton Park will become England’s fourth “all weather” venue when racing returns to the right-handed Sunbury oval on Saturday March 25th. Over £18.8 million has been spent on converting the track to a floodlit facility, which will also continue to stage National Hunt racing.

Money has been spent on upgrading stabling and on a new sampling and veterinary unit, which will offer some of the best treatment facilities available.

The flat turf course has been replaced with a Polytrack, which will race similar to the surface installed at nearby Lingfield Park. Kempton will stage a new mile series which will culminate in a £100,000 final in early September. The two group three and five listed races which were staged on the old turf course will all be run on the new surface.

At Lingfield Park two group three races will be run on the Polytrack surface this year. The Winter Derby in March (upgraded from Listed) and the Silver Trophy in June. A new Listed Race (River Eden Stakes) will join the Fluer de Lys Stakes (Listed) to be run on the Polytrack surface on October 21st.

Redcar break new ground this spring and will stage the first big turf handicap, the William Hill Lincoln – transferred from Doncaster, which is closed for redevelopment. This summer, they will stage a new £50,000 mid-summer sprint. The Class 2 event, restricted to three-year-olds, will be staged on Sunday, July 23rd and follows the other major summer races for second season sprinters at York in June and Newmarket’s July festival.

The totepool Two-Year-Old Trophy in the autumn will be worth in excess of £200,000.

Winters in Norway are often harsh and the 2006 one has been no exception. However, trainers at Ovrevoll racecourse have been able to keep their horses in full training throughout the winter as the dirt track was renewed last autumn. The new track is sand based and is regularly salted and harrowed through the night. Temperatures have dipped as low as minus 20c but the track has been in full use by first light.

Figures released by Horse Racing Ireland at the end of 2005 showed an increase in on course betting and Tote turnover. As a result, prize money is expecting to rise to roughly €56 million during 2006.

The Turf Club have revealed that retired Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Ronan Keane, and former Attorney General, Eoghan Fitzsimons SC, are to head a new appeals body for Irish racing. The appeals body began on February 1st and will rule on matters such as; doping offences, jockey suspensions and careless riding.

In France Pari Mutuel Urbain (the tote operator PMU) saw a 6% rise in revenue in 2005 to €8 billion from €7.4 billion in 2004. The 2005 figure beat a forecast gain of 5% and marked a 30% increase over the last four years. The PMU is the largest off track betting operator in Europe and has recently signed a deal with Ladbrokes to take promote French racing throughout the UK. Much of the increase in revenue can be attributed to legal internet gambling which produced €250 million sales in 2005.

In Italy, unlicensed offshore internet gambling was effectively outlawed at the end of February with the Italian government enforcing a law that will oblige internet providers to block access to unlicensed betting operators. The ban will be welcomed by many in the Italian racing industry as it will force overseas operators to be licensed and pay a percentage of revenue back to the state betting operator, which will undoubtedly increase prize money.

The Cyprus parliament is waiting for a new bill to be presented this spring, which deals with taxation on horseracing and electronic bets. Whilst the exact content of the bill has yet to be realised, it is expected to contain reference to a remodelling of betting laws along the lines of the British fixed odds betting. The concern for the industry is that if a move away from pool betting is accepted, it will have a detrimental effect on prize money.

American racecourses have announced a raft of enhancements to their stakes schedules this year, which will be of interest to European trainers. Notable revisions include the increase in purses at Colonial Downs where their two feature turf races, The Colonial Turf Cup and The Virginia Derby (Gr. II) have both had their purses increased to $1m. The races form the first two legs of the $5m Jacobs Investments Grand Slam of Grass, a four-race series for three-year-olds on the turf. Hollywood Park have added the CashCall Mile (Gr. III), formerly run as the Royal Heroine Stakes, for fillies and mares, 3-years and up, and will be run on Saturday, July 1. The American Oaks (Gr. I), at 1 1/4 miles, is scheduled for Sunday, July 2. Both races are invitational turf events and will each carry $750,000 purses. At Calder Racecourse in Florida, the inaugural running of the Bob Umphrey Turf Marathon will take place on July 22nd. The two mile event will carry a purse of $250,000 and will be the longest flat stakes race run in North America this year. The race is named in honour of the former racing secretary who died in early January. Calder will also stage two five furlong $250,000 ungraded stakes races on August 5th. Track executives are keen to encourage international participation for all their key races this year and will soon be announcing travel incentives for horses who fly direct to Miami International Airport where new quarantine facilities are now in place.