The U.S. balance of payments doesn't figure to be helped by the International Turf Festival at Laurel. The track has done almost too good a job in attracting foreign horses to the five major stakes it will present on Saturday and Sunday. The French contingent looks like a cinch to win more races than the home team.
There is nothing mysterious about this probable foreign domination. America's 2-year-olds and sprinters get very few opportunities to run in big races on the grass -- with the notable exception of the events at the International Turf Festival. But racing on the grass is, of course, the Europeans' full-time game. Here are my picks for the weekend's stakes:
Selima Stakes: (Saturday, 2-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles). The U.S. representatives in this $300,000 event look like a weak group. Majesty's Bloom isn't nearly as good as her recent nine-length victory at the Meadowlands would suggest, and three of the other five U.S. horses are ex-claimers. The two French fillies, Assombrie and Tycoon's Drama, presumably have an edge in class, and Tycoon's Drama appears to be the better of them. In her last start, she was only three lengths behind a rival named Caerlina, who came out of the race to finish second in a $262,000 Grade I stakes.
Laurel Futurity: (Saturday, 2-year-old colts, 1 1/16 miles). All of the pre-race hype has focused on the amazing colt Timeless Times, who has won 16 races in England in his first season of racing. Forget him. He may be only a sprinter, and he hasn't been facing competition that is remotely in the same league as River Traffic, the French colt who is the strongest of the Europeans.
But the best horse in the Futurity lineup may be a humble New York-bred named Fourstars Allstar, an assessment that is based on some elementary comparative handicapping. In a prep for the Futurity at Laurel last month, Share The Glory narrowly beat Kings Casino and both colts looked pretty impressive. Kings Casino then went to Belmont for an allowance race, where Fourstars Allstar beat him by four lengths in very fast time. Fourstars Allstar may be America's best hope in the whole Festival.
Laurel Dash: (Sunday, 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs). Fourstardave, the older brother of the aforementioned Fourstars Allstar, is the most talented of the U.S. entrants, but he is much more effective as a miler than as a sprinter. The class of the field is almost certainly the French horse, Ron's Victory.
All Along Stakes: (Sunday, fillies and mares, 1 1/8 miles). Houseproud appears to outclass her rivals in this $300,000 event. Last season, as a 2-year-old, she finished a close second to Salsabil, the best filly in Europe. She won a Grade I event at Longchamp this spring.
Budweiser International: (Sunday, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles). Because it is scheduled only six days before the Breeders' Cup, the International wasn't able to attract the upper echelon of U.S. turf horses. The rags-to-riches Maryland horse, Ten Keys, may be the best of the Americans, and he has never been true Grade I material.
But the French colt, Creator, certainly is. He won two Grade I stakes earlier in the year, and most recently finished third in the Prix de Prince d'Orange, a performance whose significance later become clear. The winner came out of that race to capture the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's most important race for older horses. The fourth-place finisher shipped to Canada and won the $1 million Rothmans International. The main event of the International Turf Festival should produce an all-European exacta: Creator and Batshoof.