Almost from the moment one entered Laurel Race Course yesterday it became obvious the Washington D.C. International is not yet a turf classic. The reason: no jail.

The theory here is that you can have all the counts and ambassadors, presidents, secretaries of state and horses from every corner of the globe on hand, but if the pickpockets pass it up the affair must lack genuine gusto.

Theives are so active during Preakness Day at Pimlico that officials annually build a plywood prison that police wagons come by and empty at regular intervals.

For the International, no such facility. No need.

"For the Preakness, we might get 80 or so Pickpockets," security chief Paul Berube said. "Today we might get five or 10. This is the sixth year I've been here for the International and there hasn't been a major problem.

"By all standards - and mine especially - today is quiet."

Part of the reason is that many of the superior international animals - The Minstrel Forego, Seattle Slew. J.O. Tobin - sent their regrets. The Soviets said Nyet again.

The more than 25,000 customers who bothered to witness this event generally had a pleasant time of it - anyone with a fancy for long shots might have been looking for an NFL franchise to buy after Steve Cauthen rode home Johnny D., the 10-to-1 shot winner in this 26th International.

The daily double paid $431.60 and a 24-to-1 shot, Simple Flight, won the sixth race. Nostalgia buffs were rewarded one race earlier when Directory won and Onion, which beat Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney Stakes, was second.

The official day began an hour before the first race, when Laurel management rounded up two dozen crossing guards from Anne Arundel County to hoist the flags of every country that has ever had a horse complete here. A band from Alexandria gave the program added international luster.

Naturally, the most active person this day was the wonderfully personable Heidi Hill in Customer Courtesy. Not all the dumb animals are on the track at major races, and early on she was certain someone would approach and ask for such profound information as: "How doo you bet?" and "Where can I get Dial-A-Winner?"

As it later developed, Dial-A-Winner these days - and this one especially - is simpy another way of saying Steve Cauthen, the wonder child who looks as though he should be doing nothing strenous than bagging groceries.

At 17, Cauthen gives no hint of whiskers that would cover a young peach. Yesterday he gave no hint that the largely overlooked Johnny D. would lose once he "let him start to run" at the end of the back-stretch.

The alleged wizards had made Exceller and Majestic Light the favorites, and the only reason Johnny D. got as low as 10-to-1 was because he had Cauthen on his back. The two glamor horses were racing each other, as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer often did. And when that happens, someone else often wins.

For Cauthen, winning a major race ar Laurel is getting to be a weekly happening. Last Saturday he rode Affirmed to victory in the Laurel Futurity and assured that colt the 2-year-old championship. He was the maestro once again, sensing all the proper movements and pace.

"He's got a set of hands on him like you wouldn't believe," said one serious bettor as the replay was being shown. As Johnny D. was pulling ahead, swiftly, a handicapper whispered: "Steve said it's time."

Cauthen is remarkably polite for a young man wildly successful a rugged sport dominated by ask-no-quarter rivals.

"Please," he says when he does not understand a question. That was when someone asked if he was nervous before the International, what with Angel Corero and Yves Saint Martin also in the race.

"I don't worry about that," Cauthen said. "I worry about the best every day in New York. It was a pleasure today, and an experience. The track was soft, but my horse never took a bad step."

So this International will be remembered more for a jockey than for a horse, the day a teen-ager slickered his elders. This day the excuses were from Cordero and Saint Martin.

"The track was slow . . . the horse didn't respond . . . he may have been tired from traveling," Saint Martin said of the French horse, Crow.

"It was too soft for him." Cordero said of Exceller. "He couldn't get hold of it."

"He was going so easy," Cauthen said of Johnny D. "It wasn't so much me riding him as letting him start running."

But that seemingly simple tactic had bbeen botched by everyone else in the field.