Several of the foreign horses strolled about the walking ring of the International Village, preparing for yesterday's early-morning exercises, when a wise guy watching the Italian colt couldn't resist a remark.
"They say that's Stateff, a 3-year-old. But that's not Stateff, it's Sirlad, who beat Stateff by 12 lengths when they last met, the wag declared. "Sirlrd was one of the best horses in Europe this year, until he was injured. Looks like he's made a miraculous recovery."
The attempt at levity was lost on race officials. Mention the word "ringer" in sporting circles these days and people start thinking of horseshoes, all right, but the kind horses wear, not the kind country boys aim at pegs.
Never has there been so much talk about foreign horses in this country at International time as there is this fall. Unfortunately, the talk concerns Lebon, or Cinzano, or What's His Name, which won the ninth race at Belmont Park Spet. 23 at odds of 57 to 1. The race was on the grass.
It seems Lebon and Cinzano were brought to this country from Uruguay for racing purposes. Lebon, the lesser, apparently was hit in the head and destroyed so that Cinzano, a better runner, could be given Lebon's foal papers and past performances.
"So why not invite Cinzano, or What's His Name, to the International?" Laurel officials were asked.
"He's been impounded," they replied.
"So what," the writer persisted. "You'd be doing the New York D.A. who's investigating the case a favor. They could finally find cut exactly how good Cinzano or What's His Name is.
"Besides, if it's Cinzano, he belongs in Saturday's International. He won five Grade One races in Montevideo. That makes him a better horse than Sol De Noche, the only horse ever to represent Uruguay at Laurel (in 1970)."
Track management didn't think much of the idea. Apparently, there's a stigma on What's His Name that makes him socially unacceptable to this International company. Then again, a horse named Lebon M.L. once ran in an International (1962) for Canada, so the name itself can't be too offensive.
What is puzzling is that Laurel objects to Cinzano even though it has gone to great lengths this year to generate interest in its $200,000 main event, not minding at times if its advertising was misleading.
I looked about the International Village yesterday and did not see Seattle Slew. Forego wasn't there, either. Nor was The Ministrel, nor J.O. Tobin nor Alleged, the Arc winner. They're not there, unless they're masquerading under names of Majestic Light, Vigors, Johnny D., Exceller, Balmerino, Crow, Monseigneur and the previously mentioned Stateff. Great Contractor will complete the field of nine when he ships in from Belmont Thursday.
John Schapiro, Laurel's president, has done another good job of attracting the best horses available to the International. But all the box-office names are missing. And Schapiro had to know, in his heart, that the "Big Five" horses he advertised were, at best, longshots to start in his 1 1/2-mile gras race.
The ads, however, were successful. All 7,000 reserved seats are taken. The usual advance sale is 4,500 to 5,000. And the catering company reports 2,200 reservations for clubhouse dining. compared with the usual 1,700.
One might think the Horse of the World title was on the line, instead of the International being just another interesting contest in the series to determine the nation's turf champion. The series begins with the Mano' War, includes the Canadian and Washington, D.C., internationals, and concludes with the $200,000 Turf Classic at Aqueduct Nov. 19.
By Nov. 19, Lebon or Cinzano or What's His Name might be eligible for competition again. If he is, he should get an engraved invitation to something or other. Any horse that can be brought back from the dead to win a race is, indeed, in the hands of a very special veterinarian.