Trainers always moan and grumble when owners butt in and tell them what to do with a horse. When owner John Ed Anthony told Shug McGaughey that he wanted to enter Vanlandingham in the Washington, D.C. International, McGaughey wasn't overwhelmed by the idea.
After all, Vanlandingham never had raced on the grass. He never had seen anything like the mushy turf course at Laurel. He wasn't bred to be a grass runner. "I was opposed to the idea," McGaughey said.
But Vanlandingham made his management look pretty smart yesterday, leading all the way to score an upset victory in the 34th International. Skillfully guided by jockey Don MacBeth, he finished one length ahead of Yashgan, with Jupiter Island third.
Strawberry Road II, the favorite, and Win, generally considered the United States' best turf horse, faded to finish out of the money. Win was fifth, Strawberry Road II eighth in the 10-horse field.
Although McGaughey wanted to prepare Vanlandingham for dirt races in New York and California, he did see one bit of merit in Anthony's idea. McGaughey had come to learn a harsh truth about the 4-year-old.
He seems to be a one-dimensional runner who does his best only when he can get the early lead. He hadn't been able to win a race from off the pace all year; otherwise, he was virtually unbeatable.
"I figured that none of the European horses had his kind of speed," McGaughey said. "I figured he could control the race somewhat."
That is exactly what happened. None of Vanlandingham's rivals had any intention of challenging him early. On a turf course that had been saturated by day-long rain, all the jockeys wanted to conserve their mounts' energy.
A matter of moments after the gate opened, Vanlandingham found himself three lengths ahead of the field. Richard Migliore, aboard Win, was content to sit just behind him. Angel Cordero Jr. was keeping Strawberry Road II toward the back of the 10-horse pack.
Vanlandingham loped the first quarter of a mile in 26 seconds, the half in 51 1/5 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:17 1/5, and nobody behind him made a move to challenge him. "When I went by the board and saw the 51, I was pretty happy," MacBeth said.
Second-guessers might criticize the other jockeys for permitting MacBeth to "steal" the race, but since nobody had raced over the Laurel turf course in a -the-year title when he went into the Breeders' Cup Classic at Aqueduct two weeks ago.
Challenged for the early lead, he tired badly, finished next to last and lost considerable prestige. Yesterday, he regained a lot of it.