In the 30 years of the Washington, D.C. International, Laurel Race Course has played host to countless ambassadors, politicians and even the Aga Khan, who arrived one year in a helicopter that landed on the track infield.
This year, however, the 30th edition of the $250,000 invitational turf race was different. "This is definitely a T-shirt crowd," said Carole Copeland, who handles complaints for the track while she also sells T-shirts in the grandstand area. "We've sold more today than ever."
By the time the sixth race came up, the concession stand had run out of small-sized T-shirts that sold for $3.95. Disappointed customers could take consolation with free pictures of Man o' War.
Copeland, of Silver Spring, also said that complaints were down this year. "Only one all day," she said, which involved a mixup in seating arrangements for the clubhouse, which divides the grandstand from the turf club.
The list of guests at the turf club was impressive, as usual. Besides the numberless horse owners, trainers and jockeys, there were three former ambassadors -- Walter Annenberg, Robert Strauss and True Davis -- one former senator, George Smathers of Florida, and, as usual, Alejandro Orfila, secretary general of the Organization of American States. Orfila, who owns horses himself, will go to just about any function that has anything to do with a horse.
Another horse lover at Laurel yesterday was groom Helen Nolan, 20, of Trim CoMeath, Ireland. While racing fans were in fits over the double disqualification in the fourth race -- the Christopher R. Handicap eventually won by Lordly Love -- Nolan was back in the barn area with her charge, Carin Rouge, the Irish representative in the International who finished fourth.
Nolan and Buzz Torreyson, an outrider here for 35 years and now the caretaker of the International village area on the backstretch, were the only ones in the stable area during the early part of the afternoon. Most of the horses, including favorite April Run, were left alone to rest before the 1 1/2-mile race.
In fact, April Run, the eventual runner-up in the race, was really left alone. There was a padlock on Stall 7 of the red, white and blue barn door. But Nolan was not about to abandon Carin Rouge.
"The others don't mind leaving their horses here alone," said Nolan, who traveled with the filly for 28 hours on her first transatlantic trip last Monday. She planned to stay around the barn all afternoon, looking after her brown charge.
Nolan said she wouldn't bet on the race, even on the filly that is trained by her uncle, Michael Cunningham, and owned by Craig B. Singer's Nickels and Dimes Stables. "I don't bet. I think my money would stop any horse," she said.