For the first time in history the Russians have sent a Thoroughbred entry to contest a horse race in the United States. On the face of it, the challenge of the Soviet Union's two leading 3-year-old colts, Garnir (which means garnish) and Zaryad (charge), in next week's Washington, D.C. International at Laurel sounds as foolhardy as the suggestion that somewhere behind that mysterious curtain there lurks a golfer capable of giving what for to a capitalist dentist named Middlecoff or a former West Virginia hillbilly named Snead.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that the Russians simply don't make the mistake of engaging in international competition unless they feel their chances of success are reasonably good. At least that's the way it has been in such fields as track, crew, wrestling and hockey. And when a Soviet girl actually gained the junior finals at Wimbledon this year it was a sure sign that in the years ahead the Russian tennis program will get a priority equal to that of weight lifting and considerably ahead of shoplifting.
Russian racing (as the story and pictures on the next four pages clearly illustrate) is no haphazard operation. The sport boasts a proud history, going back to the 18th century when the Russians patterned a broad racing and breeding program after what they had seen and learned from the English. Records of that age show that in one 60-year period, 1790 to 1850, the Russians imported no fewer than 17 winners of English classic races. Breeding Authority Charles Hatton tells us that Garnir traces to Gainsborough (sire of Hyperion) and is out of a mare traceable to Hurry On through the Epsom Derby winner, Captain Cuttle. Zaryad is by Ribold, a son of Oleander. This male line produced Wilwyn, who won the first International at Laurel in 1952.
Even though they have been surprisingly successful in previous runnings of this race, foreign horses and their riders are at a distinct disadvantage in the International. Visiting Thoroughbreds do not get a race over this tight-turned turf strip before the big day. This makes it tough on both horse and rider when they finally come face to face with strange competition and American race-riding tactics. For the Russians, no matter how capable Garnir and Zaryad may be, the task of winning at Laurel is immense. So little is known about Russian form that comparisons are impossible, but in the case of Garnir and Zaryad, it is known that they finished one-two in the mile-and-a-half Moscow Derby this July and that Garnir's winning time over a dirt track was 2:31½—or only a second and a fraction slower than Cavan's recent winning Belmont Stakes.
The Russian press has decided not to publicize this latest excursion of Soviet sport, at least until the race is over. My guess is that when it is over, those concerned with the sport over there will realize the obvious shortcomings of a program which has not until now allowed itself a genuine test of international competition. One authority on racing in the Soviet Union, Michail Petrovitch Noskov, summed it up perfectly frankly two years ago when, writing in The Bloodstock Breeders' Review, he said, "The success of our horses at the International Meetings of Central and Eastern European countries proves that the Soviet Union possesses large resources of good breeding stock. This does not mean, however, that our horses are good enough to match better English or Western European Thoroughbreds.... One must not forget that the standard of Central and Eastern European breeding was never very high and has suffered considerably through war losses.... Obviously our Thoroughbreds would have little chance of winning if matched against Western European horses, but we should not be afraid of losing."
Although Garnir and Zaryad will be attracting the most interest at Laurel, the heavy favorite and likely winner will be Ireland's representative, Ballymoss, already such a champion in Europe that he is being compared to Italy's recent running wonder, Ribot. From Australia comes the worthy Sailor's Guide, from Germany there is Orsini, while the chief American contender will be Clem. The regrettable aspect of American participation in this race is that our best turf runner, Round Table, was not pointed for it. His owners think they have the best horse in the country on any surface. If they wanted to prove it they could have taken dead aim on a meeting with Ballymoss at Laurel, instead of picking up loose change in other stakes all fall. Because next week the horse to top Ballymoss in the seventh International will deserve the title, temporarily at least, of Horse of the World.