The whole thing was a departure from script by the colt, Mac Diarmida, a front-runner by habit. In the Laurel International he was unready at the start and broke badly, but for the first mile he was content to be among the laggers. The colt was also getting a message in French from his rider, Jean Cruguet, who sensed the slow pace up front.
Cruguet was now plotting to have a bundle of horse left for the big shot he would take at all of 'em, come the home stretch. It worked. Mac Diarmida won the race, not by much, but by a very conclusive head over Tiller, another American, who can brag about covering the most ground. Rider Jeffrey Fell took him on an outside trip most of the way, for no known reason.
Cruguet, whose riding credentials include a Triple Crown with Seattle Slew, said after the race that he played it as a contest with Ways, turning into the stretch. "I made my move when I say Waya trying to save ground on the inside," he said. But the challenge came from Tiller, who just missed making up all that lost ground.
The surprise of the race, according to Mac Diarmida's trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, was not that his colt won it, but that he went off the fourth choice at 9 to 2. "I expected him to win," Schulhofer said, "but I did not expect these odds on a colt that won 12 of his 13 starts."
It was apparent an hour before post time that some of Laurel's International clientels was missing, about 5,000 of them. The announced attendance was 20,520, diminished from the 25,000-plus who watched last year's race.
There could have been a couple of reasons for the many stay-at-homes:
Unbeaten Maryland playing Unbeaten Penn State on television.
A recognition that this wasn't a great cast, as International fields go. No big horse. No Kelso, no Majestic Light or Sir Ivor or Bad Eagle. A decent field, but not quite box office (where are Exceller or Seattle Slew or Affirmed?)
It was nevertheless a good horse race from the field of eight, with front-runners folding and the class coming on as it should. Racing, as it happens, needed solid and good excitement of an honest nature this week, following sensational charges in this week's Sports Illustrated of rampant fixing of horse races, and involvment of noted jockeys.
Laurel, it is remembered, is the only race track with a foreign policy, and the fact that Foreign Minister John B. Schapiro could induce only four steeds from abroad to enter this year's race casts some doubt on whether his talks were fruitful, useful or constructive. However, his post is hardly in Jeopardy, as Laurel's cabinet is both appointed and confirmed by track owner Schapiro.
Socially, it was a split-level gathering that Laurel hosted for its 27th International, with precise lines of division. The grandstands stopped at the clubhouse gates, clubhouse patrons were forbidden the Upstairs Truf Club, and Truf Club clients knew their place, which was not in the Upper Turf Club where Schapiro holds fourth, with butlers.
The guest list this year included Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal, but Schapiro lost his opposite number in the Egyptian delegation. Foreign Minister Butros Ghali was called back suddenly to Cairo to discuss Middle East affairs with President Anwar Sadat. It may have been a hard choice, but Ghali gave it priority over the International.
The Virginia horse county was not liberally represented, but Mrs. C. J. Tippett, the former Elizabeth Ehitney, was present in a brown suede hat, suede coat and brown suede everything. There was less commotion this year because of the absence of the violet blue eyes of Elizabeth Taylor Warner, one of last year's delegates from the Virginia Horse Country. She has been diverted by another race, her husband's for the U.S. Senate.
An hour before the field went to the post there was a change of riders on the Canadian entry, Overskate. Rudy Turcotte would be the jockey, not Robin Platts, a Canadian who is his regulate rider. Platts, it was announced couldn't get here. Weather held up his plane in Cleveland. In Cleveland?