The European invaders came by air—gliding down at Baltimore airport. Off one plane stepped a jet black, temperamental colt named Landau—the pride of England—ready to carry the purple, gold and scarlet colors of his owner, Queen Elizabeth II. Landau was met by officials of the British Embassy and a fife and drum corps. The planes also brought racing champions from France and Ireland.
Still other planes brought the invading jockeys: Australian-born William Rae Johnstone, the master reinsman of the Continent; the Queen's jockey, Willie Snaith; France's quiet, noncommittal Claude Lalanne, to ride the fine French filly, Banassa. And so on.
Thanks to transatlantic aviation, Maryland's Laurel Race Course was about to stage the third running of turfdom's newest classic: the International, a mile and a half on grass, weight for age, for $65,000 gross.
November 15, 1954
For the two U.S. entries, there was no fanfare. One, a 5-year-old gelding named Brush Burn, was picked largely for his experience on grass. The other—the game little brown colt Fisherman—was in as a last-moment substitute. The U.S. selection committee had passed up Fisherman originally to name his season-long rival, High Gun. Then, two days before the race, High Gun wrenched himself in a workout. The hurry-up call for Fisherman was a little like the call that comes to an operatic understudy when Lohengrin turns up with laryngitis.
"I didn't hesitate for a moment accepting the invitation," said Owner C. V. Whitney. As soon as he had told Laurel yes, Whitney and his trainer, Syl Veitch, made sure of another thing: that George Edward Arcaro would agree to ride Fisherman, a stranger to grass, and match his skill against the best imported talent. "I'll do whatever you tell me to," said Eddie.
Race day dawned cold and gray after a heavy rain. SylVeitch, early that morning, walked the course foot by foot. He came up with some hunches and a plan. Just before Arcaro legged up on Fisherman for the first time in his life, Syl pulled him aside for instructions: "Stay away from the inside; the going is heavier there from the rain. Keep out between 10 and 15 feet. If my guess is right, Landau will set the pace, but Banassa is the one to beat. Try never to be worse than second. Then, at the half-mile pole, go about your business."
The events of the next two minutes, 47 4/5 seconds proved Syl Veitch to be the day's master prophet. They also won for Banana Nose Eddie Arcaro further acclaim (as if he needed it) as a rider whose skill and judgment are unrivaled by any man alive.
Landau's admirers had the satisfaction of seeing the royal colors worn by Willie Snaith up front for the first mile. But for Landau, who has been under-going analysis and psychotherapy to correct his nervous unreliability (SI, Oct. 19), the first mile was the race. The last half-mile was Fisherman's. Arcaro opened up a three-length lead. Back in last place was Rae Johnstone aboard the Irish filly, Northern Gleam. Rae gave it a try, but the only horse he beat was Her Majesty's neurotic colt. Entering the stretch the French filly Banassa made her move at Fisherman. Lalanne, gunning into the heavy-going inside, didn't make it. At the finish it was Fisherman by nearly a length—just where Syl Veitch wanted to see him: 15 feet out from the rail. "He's as game a colt as I've ever ridden," said a smiling Arcaro, whose mounts have now won the staggering total of $17,057,092 since 1932. Owner Whitney added: "This should boost international racing all over."
Prophet Veitch wound up the happy day with the year's biggest boost for grass racing: "A good horse will run on anything. It's probably just as well we didn't train for this race."
...THE INTERNATIONAL SET, JOCKEY DIVISION
To ride the horses from England, Ireland and France, which raced in the Laurel International last week, came some of Europe's finest jockeys. Willie Snaith, 26, looking like a pocket version (if possible) of Mickey Rooney, was on hand to ride the Queen's Landau. From Paris came the veteran Rae Johnstone, 49, the Arcaro of foreign turf racing, who has ridden in 10 countries, won nearly 2,000 times. Johnstone is called "The Crocodile" for his habit of coming from behind to eat up the opposition. But at Laurel it was Arcaro who gobbled up tactical honors.
SHOP TALK AT COFFEE TIME
While Snaith (center) bends an attentive pair of ears and Arcaro twitches one of his own, Rae Johnstone holds the floor as the riders sip prerace coffee. Said Rae about Eddie: "E'es the class all right." Replied Arcaro with appropriate politeness: "Rae is great. Many European jockeys are better horsemen than we are."