After 17 runnings of John Schapiro's Washington, D.C. International, that $150,000 mile-and-a-half turf extravaganza at Laurel, the representatives of the U.S. are still trailing foreign entrants by one victory. The score is 9-8, but it will be surprising indeed if it isn't evened this Nov. 11 when the American colors will be carried by a sensational 5-year-old named Hawaii.
Admittedly, you could argue about the score even if he wins, because Hawaii is a South African-bred grass specialist, by an Italian sire, and he will be ridden by a Panamanian jockey. But he is trained by a genuine American horseman from Versailles, Ky. And he is owned by Industrialist Charles Engelhard, who is equally at home in Dark Harbor. Me. or South Africa or on a Canadian salmon river (SI, April 28). In any case, that ought to be international enough for John Schapiro.
Lining up with Hawaii on the U.S. team will be the handicap star Nodouble, who can beat almost anything around on dirt except Arts and Letters, to whom he bowed once more in last week's two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, but who was fourth the only time in his 35-race career that he attempted the switch to turf. "Oh, he'll run over it all right," says Owner Gene Goff, optimistically. "If he gets beat it'll be because of the tight turns at Laurel, which always put a long-striding horse to a disadvantage." On the contrary—if Nodouble is beaten by Hawaii or any of the visiting runners it will be because he is taking on horses who have done virtually all of their racing on grass.
Among those flying in to Laurel is England's Karabas, a 4-year-old son of Worden II and the Tantieme mare Fair Share. Trainer Bernard van Cutsem is sending Karabas, winner of his last five starts, as deputy for the star of his stable, the fine mare Park Top, who has tailed off after being somewhat of an unlucky loser in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. From France will come the Arc's third-place finisher, Grandier, and the French Derby winner, Goodly. Italy's Hogarth, Germany's Hitchcock, Brazil's Sabinus and Japan's Takeshiba-O (who finished last at Laurel a year ago) appear to be overmatched in this company.
The truth is, they may all be overmatched if Hawaii performs the way Engelhard, Trainer MacKenzie Miller and Jockey Jorge Velasquez expect him to. "He's certainly the best horse I've ever had anything to do with," says Miller, who only a few years ago developed Assagai into one of the country's top turf horses. "Laurel favors a speed horse who can go on, and Hawaii has the speed to do anything. He can accelerate faster than any horse I've ever seen."
A year ago it seemed that Hawaii might accelerate into oblivion after a brilliant career in South Africa, where he won 15 of 18 races. Engelhard knew he had a good one in this beautiful 16-hands two-inch son of Utrillo II but wanted to prove it by bringing him to America to face stiffer competition. Arriving last fall, Hawaii was forced to spend 60 days in a quarantine stall without even being allowed to walk around the shed. When he came out, says Miller, "he looked like a milk-wagon horse, and it took him months to respond." The response was eventually rewarding, for Hawaii has won six of his nine U.S. races, including the United Nations and the Man o' War.
"The way Hawaii is going right now," says Miller, "he's got to be the horse to beat at Laurel."