It's tie-breaker time at today's $250,000 Washington, D.C. International at Laurel Race Course.
In the 30 previous runnings of the International, horses representing the United States have won 15 times; foreign entries have won the 1 1/2-mile turf race 15 times. The winner of today's race, set to go off at 4:15 p.m., will break that tie, taking home honor and, more important, a first prize of $150,000.
The 10-horse field -- one gelding, four fillies and five colts -- is evenly divided between continents, and at the traditional International breakfast yesterday, trainers, owners and jockeys from all camps expressed the usual optimism in their own animals.
April Run, Diana Firestone's 8-to-5 favorite representing France, galloped over the turf course yesterday morning with jockey Cash Asmussen aboard. "She's feelin' good," he said. "She's ready."
Asmussen, who rode April Run to victory in the Turf Classic at Aqueduct in New York and a fourth-place finish in the Arc de Triomphe, is familiar with the other International horses. "There's no special one I have to watch out for," he said. "Just all of them."
Like most of the European horses, April Run favors soft turf. Rain Thursday night followed by steady winds early yesterday brought the turf course to a springy surface. Frank Turner, handling Italy's Friendswood, called it almost perfect for his 3-year-old filly.
"This change in weather helped her, too," he said. Friendswood, trained by Turner's father Luigi who will not be at Laurel today, had lost weight on the trip over, and the younger Turner was concerned about her condition. "She looks good now, though, and she'll be ready tomorrow," he said. Owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt, Friendswood will be ridden by Sandy Hawley.
Awaasif, one of England's two entries, finished a head in front of April Run in the Arc, to which jockey Willie Carson said yesterday, "Why wouldn't we beat her by a head or a neck tomorrow?" Trainer John Dunlop foresees no major problems with Awaasif's post position, the 10 hole, saying simply, "We'll cope with that."
Awaasif's owner is Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, but he's called "Your Highness" for short. Although he has been buying and breeding thoroughbreds since 1977, the International will mark the first time one of his horses has raced in the United States.
Humbug, the Swedish filly whose arrival was delayed more than two days, is not likely to do more than stretch her legs before post time. Owner Bengt Bockman said his horse's late arrival, due to being bumped from a flight on Tuesday, had snarled her training schedule.
"We had made a very sharp schedule and had hoped she would be able to do some work here," he said. "But if you make a pattern and it doesn't work, you make a new pattern that's good."
Humbug is expected to be out of quarantine by noon today. "That's just four hours before the race," Bockman said. "But if she can stretch a bit, good. This way, we get the benefit of not being here too long."
Of the U.S. entries, only Bill Passmore, riding Royal Roberto, and Luis Barrera, trainer of Pair Of Deuces, were speculating yesterday. Passmore said his colt, who won the Laurel Turf Cup last month, "is here to come from behind."
Barrera plans to "go to the lead and let them catch him." Pair Of Deuces galloped briefly yesterday, after his Thursday morning session was cut short when a stirrup broke. Barrera, asked about the significance of the colt's name, said it had something to do with a poker game, then added, "I hope he runs like a pair of aces tomorrow."
The other U.S. horses, Majesty's Prince, Sprink and Thunder Puddles, who breaks from the rail, were shipped from New York yesterday afternoon.