Philippe Paquet came to Laurel this week with the title of France's champion jockey. He will go home with a riding lesson administered by one of America's best, Jorge Velasquez.
While Paquet committed one disastrous mistake after another on the favorite, Le Marmot, Velasquez handled Bowl Game with perfection and drove him to victory in the 28th Washington, D.C. International yesterday.
Bowl Game scored by three-quarters of a length over Trillion, with the unfortunate Le Marmot a nose farther behind. The victory clinched for him the Eclipse Award as the country's outstanding grass runner.
although Bowl Game won it with a thrilling stretch drive, surrendering the lead to Trillion and then surging past her again, this International was decided in the earliest stages of the race.
When the gate opened, Le Marmot was seemingly unprepared and spotted three of four lengths to his rivals at once. Parquet reacted -- or overreacted -- immediately. He swung his mount to the outside, and rushed four-wide around the turn to get into contention, losing ground unnecessarily. Then he angled back to the rail where, as things turned out, his problems were going to begin in earnest.
Meanwhile, Velasquez was cool and calculating, as always. "I knew I was going to see Native Courier on the lead," he said. "I knew it was going to be a slow pace. Everybody was going to be trying to slow it down, so I didn't want to be too far back."
The speedster Native Courier did go to the lead, and as Velasquez had anticipated, the pace was slow. In fact, it was ridiculous, with the leaders going the first quarter in 29 3/5 seconds over the bog-like course. So even though he was riding a confirmed stretchrunner, Velasquez put his mount into immediate contention, just outside Native Courier.
It was a position where he could take advantage of the slow pace, where he could avoid getting blocked, where he could keep the leader or anybody else from getting too far in front. Velasquez was in the catbird seat, while Paquet was heading for disaster.
Since the pace was so slow, the riders jockeyed for position constantly. Velasquez sent Bowl Game to the lead on the clubhouse turn, but Native Courier spurted back into the lead. Golden Act made a bold move on the outside, but quickly faded out of contention.And then France's Son of Love II rushed up outside the leaders.
The three of them -- Native Courier, Bowl Game and Son of Love II -- were racing abreast of each other while Le Marmot stalked them on the rail. It was obvious to the crowd of 20,142, which had established him the 8-to-5 favorite, that he was crying to run. Unfortunately, he had nowhere to go.
With a three-horse wall in fromt of him, Paquet tried to sneak inside Native Courier along the rail, but he couldn't find room and had to ease his horse back. Moments later he had to take hold of Le Marmot again.
When the field straightened into the stretch, Le Marmon was still trapped, Son of Love II was fading, and Bowl Game was facing a challenge from the remarkable Trillion. The 5-year-old mare had raced in France, Canada, New York and California during the previous five months, and most handicappers had assumed that she would be exhausted after such a schedule, but she swooped around the field into the stretch and drew abreast of Bowl Game.
Le Marmot had finally extricated himself from his difficulties and Paquet was whipping furiously, trying to atone for his sins. But Bowl Game was still a strong horse, after setting slow fractions and enjoying an easy trip all the way around the track. "At the three-sixteenths pole," Velasquez said, "i really set him down." Bowl Game responded at once, quickly spurted to a one-length lead, and gave the United States it 14th International victory.
The first three finishers were eight lengths in front of the rest of the field. Behind them were Son of Love Ii, Golden Act, Waya, Native Courier and Dom Alaric. Golden Act, the 5-to-2 second choice, was the major disappointment of the race, but jockey Sandy Hawley said, "He did not handle the going. He could not get hold. He was trying real hard but going nowhere."
This was no idle excuse because one day of rain had left Laurel's turf course in deplorable condition. It was so deep that Bowl Game's winning time was 2:51, the slowest in International history and more than 27 seconds off the track record.
Bowl Game paid $9.20, $5.20 and $2.80. Trillion returned $8 and $3.80 and Le Marmot paid $3.20. The exacta was worth $53.40.
Bowl Game's victory, his fourth in a row, was the zenith of his late-blooming career. He suffered from troublesome ankles when he was a 2-year-old, didn't race much at 3, and finally developed into a good stakes winner last year.
This fall he has captured the Arlington Handicap, the Man O'War Stakes at Belmont and the Turf Classic at Aqueduct. With his International victory he has earned nearly $900,000 for the Greentree Stable.
Trainer Jack Gaver said the gelding was to be rested and attempt to become a millionaire at Hialeah this winter. Undoubtedly Gaver would like to enlist Paquet to ride his principal opponents. CAPTION: Picture, Bowl Game, Jorge Velasquez up, surges to finish line in $200,000 Washington, D.C. International. By Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post; Chart, D.C. Iternational