Handicapping tomorrow's 27th running of the $200,000 Washington, D.C. International is a study in how to separate eight evenly matched turf specialists.
Best performances indicate that Trillion, Europe's Horse Of The Year, is the yardstick by which to measure the field.
Trained by Maurice Zilbert, Trillion had little trouble convincing Europe's experts in winning three classic races and placing four times. The daughter of Hail To Reason-Margarethen then stalked Alleged in the Arc de Triompbe and finished a clear second.
Trillion came to the United States in mid-October and was released from quarantine, in time to meet the top grass runners in training in the Turf Classic at Belmont Park Oct. 26.
The bay filly was beaten by a neck in a three-horse photo finish by Waya and Tiller, an impressive performance considering the overseas trip, the quarantine and having to run counterclockwise. She was ridden by Bill Shoemaker, who Zilbert was quoted as saying did not fit his filly after the disappointing second in the Arc. Tomorrow, Trillion will be ridden by Sandy Hawley, who has ridden two International winners.
Waya, the probable favorite for the 1 1/2 mile event, shows four straight stakes wins on the turf, including victories over male opponents in her last two. The Angel Penna-tramed filly has an outstanding American record of six wins in eight starts with two seconds. She will be ridden by Angel Cordero, who rode her in her last two come-from-behind victories. The overriding question concerning Waya is whether she was raced too many times in the past weeks to be at her peak.
Tiller, winner of seven turf races, finished a nose behind Waya and a like distance ahead of Trillion in the Turf Classic. Trained by David Whitely, Tiller is a 4-year-old gelding by Herbager-Chappaquiddick and will be ridden by Jeff Fell.
MacDiarmida is a question mark in the International. This 3-year-old colt has won 11 of 12 turf races, his only loss coming to Way and Tiller in the Man of War Stakes at Belmont Park. The son of Minnesota Mac recovered from that defeat to crush a fine international field in Canada two weeks ago, whipping European standouts Dom Alaric and Amazer. MacDiarmida is trained by Flint Schulhofer and has been running hard and well since the beginning of the year.
Of the outsiders, Noble Dancer II has the best chance for an upset.
This 6-year-old horse had been running wel but went off form in his last two starts. He will be ridden by Steve Carthen and seems to be at his best over a firm turf course. Tomorrow's forecast is for cool and clear weather.
Stone, the Italian entrant, has yet to prove he is classy enough to beat the likes to Trillion, Tiller and Waya.
It looks as if Trillion will be rated well off the pace by Hawley due to the abundance of early speed. He will be joined at the end by Waya and the pair should settle which is the better horse.
Trillion, because of the expected pace and the fact that Zilber has had more time to become acclimated, should be the winner.