The weather was pleasant—cool, clear and windless—last Saturday night at Roosevelt Raceway, but Karl-Gustav Holgersson, a 43-year-old Swede of good size and gentle disposition, frowned at the tranquil sky. "I expect a thunderbolt at least," he said. "This is the International. Something always happens. Things have been much too peaceful." Shaking his head, the 6'2½" driver of Lime Rodney lumbered down a long ramp into the paddock barn, leaving the track to a group of young adults preparing their nervous mounts for a parade preceding the richest ($200,000) trotting race ever. Suddenly a color bearer's horse reared and slammed its rider to the ground. An alarmed track official rushed forward. "I'll call an ambulance," he said to the rider, a fuming female. "Ambulance? No way," she snapped. "Call my horse. I'll ride if I don't kill the damn thing first." Events at the International were fast returning to normal.
Full normalcy came all too quickly when, moments later, the nine horses entered in the International appeared for an early workout. Amyot, one of two French challengers and the horse given the best chance of beating Delmonica Hanover of the United States, ambled easily into the paddock turn, stumbled and pulled up. "A catastrophe," moaned his little driver, Michel-Marcel Gougeon, the younger brother of three-time International winner Jean-Rene. "The right front leg, I think, is broken. How could such an unlucky stroke happen? At only a very slow jog?"
Upstairs in the dining room, Del Miller, one of Delmonica's owners, had just ordered rare prime rib when he heard the news. "Darn," he said. "I hate something like that. Sure, it makes it a lot easier for us. Still I hate it. Can you imagine traveling all that way and having an accident like that happen?"
The injury left the French with Axius, a powerful animal driven by Gerard Mascle. That pair had lost to Delmonica earlier this year in the $155,000 Prix d'Amerique at Paris. "But only by a neck," said Mascle. "Ours was the better horse. The American was lucky." Certainly, the French were hoping that was the case since they had never quite forgiven Delmonica for upsetting their beloved Une de Mai in last year's International.
"I am afraid our chance is very slim now," said a sad Jean Riaud, the French driver who won the first International with Jamin in 1959. "At this 1-mile distance, on Roosevelt's short half-mile track, Amyot was the best of the two. It would have made a fine race."
John Chapman, Delmonica Hanover's driver, grinned wryly at that and mentioned that there were still seven other very good horses to beat. The strongest of them appeared to be the second U.S. entrant, Savoir, who last summer had beaten Delmonica in Canada. Unluckily, Savoir had drawn the far-out No. 8 position for the International.
"Tell Chappy not to get nervous," said Miller.
"Tell him I'd only be nervous if I owned the horse. All I've got to lose is my time," answered Chapman.
Chapman decided to begin with caution and hoped that Holgersson would take speedy Lime Rodney into the lead at the start. Holgersson had that in mind, but Lime Rodney broke a few feet beyond the start and Chapman was left reluctantly in front. He drove looking back, hoping someone would bid for the lead. Canadian Bill Wellwood moved Keystone Gary into second and settled back for an easy trip. From far outside Savoir, driven by Jimmy Arthur, came up and parked alongside Delmonica.
"Go ahead," Chapman yelled at Arthur.
"I can't," Arthur yelled back. "Move up and I'll pull in behind you."
Chapman did push ahead, but Keystone Gary went with him, leaving Savoir still on the outside and eventually out of contention. "After that, I had to hold back on Delmonica," said Chapman. "She was rank. I really had ahold of her."
Coming out of the last turn Delmonica swung away from the rail and Keystone Gary tried to burst through on the inside, only to see Chapman recover and adeptly close that route to the lead. Undaunted, Wellwood guided the unused Keystone Gary to the outside between Delmonica and the Italian horse, Dos-son, who had moved into contention. But by then it was too late for Keystone Gary, who finished second half a length back. "That Chapman had power steering out there," said Wellwood. "He wasn't opening any doors."
For Delmonica, who won in 2:34⅘ the victory was worth $100,000, bringing her 1974 total to $215,118. "Isn't she beautiful?" said Del Miller. "And I saw the whole race."
Miller's wife Mary Lib explained: "What he means is that he had to stand up to watch the race in Paris and he couldn't see all of it."
"Yeah, the French are great," said Miller. "They give you everything. They gave me dinners, they gave me honors, they gave me medals. But they wouldn't give me a seat for the race. They said it was every man for himself."
Dressing quickly, Mascle, whose Axius finished fourth, sought out Miller at his table. With him came an interpreter. "In Paris I said you were lucky to win," Mascle said. "But no, now I don't think so. Tonight you were not lucky. There is no way I could beat your horse."
They shook hands and the Frenchman left. As Mascle made his way through the crowd, Miller watched him. "That man has a lot of class," he said.
Far away in the press box, Jean Riaud was being cornered by a reporter who asked what had happened to Amyot.
"He broke his leg," Riaud said. "He almost fell." To demonstrate Riaud jack-knifed his right leg and acted as though he was falling.
"You mean he broke his bridle?"
Riaud stared in disbelief. "You should perhaps spend more time in the paddock. Horses do not fall down from broken bridles." It takes one of those frightening International thunderbolts to bring them to their knees.