No surprise trotted into the winner's circle at yesterday's 31st Washington, D.C. International. April Run, last year's runner-up and this year's favorite, won the 1 1/2-mile and turf race by 6 1/2 lengths over Majesty's Prince.
So confident were bettors of the 4-year-old filly's ability that she paid only $3.40, $3 and $2.20.
Sprink, the only gelding in the 10-horse field, raced out of the gate to a commanding early lead and was in front by eight lengths at the half-mile mark. But Cash Asmussen, April Run's jockey, said that did not worry him.
April Run, eight horses back at the half, moved up on the tiring Sprink, closing the gap to half a length at the mile, then passing Sprink for good with about three furlongs left.
"She made the lead so easily, she wanted to go," Asmussen said after the race.
"We lost a bit of ground (at the clubhouse turn), but I wanted to get her to the outside because she's more comfortable there."
Asmussen had to hit the filly only twice. "Really, I just tapped her to let her know I was still there," he said.
"The last three-sixteenths, she was just great. She was going so easy." Even with Sprink's substantial lead, the jockey said he wasn't worried, "because he (jockey James Miranda) was using him too much. She switched leads on the backstretch, and then I knew this filly would be tough to beat."
Humbug, the Swedish filly whose travel troubles delayed her arrival by two days, broke quickly, running third behind Sprink and Pair Of Deuces at the quarter pole, but tired quickly and lagged back to the last spot and stayed there.
"She has been very quiet, calm," said owner Bengt Bockman before the race. "She hasn't been able to exercise at all, you know. I'm just hoping she'll be all right." Indeed, in the paddock, Humbug, a big chestnut 3-year-old, had kicked up her heels, impatient to move. Lars Kelp, her jockey, said the horse was "not as good as she used to be."
Pair Of Deuces, a pony-size colt trained by Luis Barrera, also spurted early, but dropped off the pace to finish eighth, 12 lengths ahead of Humbug. Pat Day, riding Pair Of Deuces, said carrying 127 pounds "bogged him down. He was trying to run, but not going anywhere."
Awaasif, England's entry owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum, was scarcely a factor, breaking fifth, falling back to eighth, then rallying to finish fifth by a neck. Moving to the outside behind the rapidly disappearing April Run, Awaasif briefly appeared ready to close the gap in the stretch.
"I didn't want to use her that early, but I thought Awaasif might close," Asmussen said. "But she (Awaasif) was tired, because of the long trip, and it just wasn't her race." Willie Carson, riding the filly, agreed. "She didn't turn well and I believe the course was too tight for her."
Majesty's Prince, a 3-year-old colt trained by Joe Cantey, battled back from his last-place start to finish second by 4 1/2 lengths, followed by Thunder Puddles, who broke from the rail. Both horses represented the United States.
Diana Firestone, clutching the silver winner's trophy, said she wasn't surprised at the race's outcome. "She's been in such good form lately," she said of her filly. Asmussen agreed, saying, "She went so good today (this morning's gallop) I knew she'd be right there."
"They (the lead horses) set a good pace today," Asmussen said. "At the start, my filly was maybe seven-eight lengths off the (No.) 2 horse, but the pace was a good, quick one." Time at the quarter pole was 25.2 seconds and April Run finished in 2:31, far off Kelso's 1964 2:23.4 record.
The track's condition pleased most of the horsemen, with its springy surface described officially as "yielding."
"That rain just took the sting out of it," Asmussen said. "It was just right."