Heaven only knows how many cuddly furry creatures bit the dust before getting sewn together into the coat big enough to keep Maine warm. Under the coat was a woman whose gray shoes matched the fur of her gray hat, the ensemble completed by a pheasant feather so tall it pulled in Channel 9. "What kind of fur is that?" said a fellow who knows cats from dogs but is not on intimate terms with chinchillas.
"Don't ask me," said a woman in cowboy boots older than Roy Rogers. "I'm into acrylics."
This was in the infield paddock yesterday afternoon at Laurel Race Course, just before they ran the Washington, D.C. International. There's a continental air here with horses flying the colors of assorted nations. For our down-home classics, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the swells dress in a felony assault of colors. But for the International, they bring out the fall chinchilla (sable? ermine?) and diplomat's pin stripes.
You get the feeling you should have sold the house and bought a suit for the day.
Hardly anyone wears unraveling slacks into John Schapiro's private aerie high above Laurel's velvet turf shining on a beautiful fall day. The president of the track has his retreat upstairs from the exclusive Turf Club. "It's like cracking a Brinks truck to get in there," a race tracker said, for Schapiro entertains only folks with enough money to pay South Dakota's electricity bill.
Two hours before race time, Bert and Diana Firestone stood on the Schapiro velvet carpet under golden chandeliers. They own Catoctin Stud near Waterford, Va., an hour's drive outside Washington. They won a Kentucky Derby with the gorgeous filly Genuine Risk, and they were anxious to get on with the International.
"If she runs like she did last week, she'll be okay," Bert Firestone said. His filly, April Run, won the Turf Classic at Aqueduct three weeks after finishing fourth in France's Arc de Triomphe.
"It's good that it rained the other night," Diana Firestone said. "She'll like that."
Even in new shoes, April Run likes soft grass. The bettors knew that, one supposes, for they made the Firestone filly a 3-to-5 favorite. Besides that, they left Awaasif a 7-to-1 outsider although the filly owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum finished a position ahead of April Run in the Arc.
A half hour before the race, watching Awaasif walk on the backside, the Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum only nodded as a functionary said, "Seven minutes before we go to the track, Your Highness."
Your Highness is only 33. His daddy is the king of Dubai, one of seven Persian Gulf nations of the United Arab Emirate.
"Excuse me," said a reporter, "but what should I call you? Your trainer, John Dunlop, said, 'Call him, 'Sir' and you'll have no problems."
"Call me Mohammed," the sheik (etc.) said.
Mohammed and three brothers -- the Dubai brothers -- have stirred up the racing world in two years. With loose change they dropped into piggy banks during assorted oil crises, they bought 42 thoroughbred yearlings for $20,550,000. They paid more than $1 million seven times, going to $2.2 million for a baby whose daddy, Alydar, never beat Affirmed.
So far, Mohammed said, it's been fun.
"It is pleasure," he said, "to be in the horse world. It is just my hobby."
The International was the sheik's second race in America. He hopes to run here more often.
"Very much more. I am hoping in the future to have a small stud farm in America. It depends now on my horses, how they are doing."
It is not against Mohammed's religion to bet.
"I just cannot enjoy it," he said, a smile lighting his bearded face. "I cannot bet to make money. I can bet only to prove how much I like my horse."
And how much would a man with a $20 million hobby bet on Awaasif?
"I not bet today," he said. "Too nervous."
The Firestones' filly cost $24,000. The sheik's filly cost $325,000. Genuine Risk cost the Firestones $35,000. That there is a lesson here became clear down the backstretch this afternoon, as April Run ran away from her failing pursuers.
Awaasif never was better than fifth.
"Did it easily," someone called to Diana Firestone in the winner's circle. Another voice said, "Oh, marvelous." And, "Just lovely." Diana Firestone said, "She cruised in," and John Schapiro took the owner by the elbow, saying, "Let's go toast the winner with a little champagne."
And as they walked toward the champagne, three grooms in the middle of the track threw a blanket over Awaasif against the chill air raising steam off her back.
Upstairs in the press box, someone asked Bert Firestone how he could win all these important races -- the Derby, the Irish Oaks, the English Oaks, the International -- without spending nine zillion dollars.
"We work hard at it, it's our full-time job," he said. "We don't spend a lot of money at yearling sales. What we do is look at the pedigree and if anything we like comes up in our price range, we might buy it." The Firestones liked April Run because they liked his sire, Run the Gantlet, in whom they own breeding privileges.
What does Firestone think of the phenomenon of an oil sheik spending $20 million in racing?
"What it shows is that you can't buy success in racing," Firestone said. "Otherwise, the guy with the most money would have the most winners."
Then, as he went to meet his wife, who yesterday wore a pin carrying a picture of Genuine Risk on the fly at Churchill Downs, Bert Firestone shouted back to a friend. "The highest money winner we've ever had," he said. "Over a million now."
For the $24,000 that April Run cost, Bert Firestone now has earned back $1,023,283.
Discovery Handicap: Trenchant battled Exclusive Era until the upper stretch, then resisted a late bid by Dew Line in winning the $54,800 feature at Aqueduct in New York.
Trenchant, ridden by Jean-Luc Samyn, carried 113 pounds over 1 1/8 miles in 1:50 4/5, winning by three-quarters of a length over Dew Line (113), ridden by Greg McCarron. Another three-quarters of a length back was Exclusive Era, ridden by Jeffrey Fell, under 112 pounds.
Trenchant, the slight favorite with the crowd of 19,538, paid $4.80, $2.60 $2.20. Dew Line returned $3.40 and $2.40. Exclusive Era was $2.20 to show.