As incongruous as it may seem for a sport which has been growing annually since the end of the second World War, Thoroughbred racing in America has, until as recently as 1952, lacked much of the dignified respectability that one instinctively associates with racing in so many other countries. We are living in an age of fast and efficient air transport, a period of widespread international competition, and in a day when most U.S. politicians and Government officials will soon no longer be able to accept race track tax revenue with one hand while using the other to slam the door of recognition in the very faces of racing's official hierarchy.
One U.S. track is today leading the way in erasing the misconception that racing over here can never match the dignity of Longchamp and Ascot. The Washington, D.C. International—usually referred to now as simply the Laurel International, after the Maryland track at which it has run for the last four years—represents the closest thing to open world competition that has ever been seen in this country. For one thing, it is a turf race from a walk-up start—conditions found highly acceptable to foreign horsemen, who come, by invitation only, to compete for $100,000. Laurel President John D. Schapiro, who masterminded the mile-and-a-half classic (for which, incidentally, all foreign invitees receive full shipping and housing expenses), can, on the eve of the fifth International this week, happily reflect that in five years he will have brought to Laurel silks from 10 countries, including those of such distinguished owners as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the President of Ireland and Sir Winston Churchill (who will be represented this week by his 3-year-old Le Pretendant).
Others due to face the starter and the American competition, which is expected to come from Dedicate and Mister Gus (and possibly one more last-minute entry), include the Swedish champion Chanteclair, Australia's Prince Cortauld, Hindu Wand from Canada, Vaquero from Ireland and Master Boing from France.
That these names hardly connote great champions matters little. It was purely misfortune that John Schapiro was unable to secure the world's greatest field—one which was to have included Swaps, Nashua and the great Italian Ribot. The important point is that Schapiro and the Laurel track are setting a true course toward the popularization of international racing. As they develop the project they are bound to attract a good deal more than just a lot of worldwide publicity. They are going to invite the discerning attention of a good many Americans who are just developing an interest in racing. And when a group such as the distinguished one seen at last year's International Ball (opposite and following pages) finds foreign ambassadors discussing various turf matters with U.S. Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet members, it has to be set down as a great advance for racing. The consequences won't be felt overnight, or in one or two years, but the Laurel International is a major step in the right direction. From it could come the long overdue recognition that racing deserves on the American scene.
November 12, 1956
Prerace ball guests include British Ambassador Sir Roger and Lady Makins (top center and top right), Justice and Mrs. Tom Clark (left foreground), and Justice and Mrs. Stanley Reed (lower left).
Guests at the ball, like Captain and Mrs. Edes Talman (above), walk between flags to a ballroom decorated with suspended horse figures and tablecloths made up like racing silks. Guests included ambassadors, cabinet members, top turfmen and socialites
World-renowned jockeys pose with Starter Eddie Blind before fourth running of the International. From left to right, they are, at top: Lester Piggott (No. 2, England), Freddie Palmer (France), Eric Guerin (U.S.), Raul Bustamante (the winner from Venezuela), Walter Held (Germany). Second row: Robert Martin (No. 7, U.S.), Eddie Arcaro (U.S.), Blind, Johnny Longden (Canada), Angel Gutierrez (Venezuela), Rae Johnstone (France). Front row: Tommy Burns (Ireland), Willie Shoemaker (U.S.) and Willie Hartack (U.S.). In four runnings of the race, the winners have hailed from England, France, America and Venezuela