LAUREL -- From 79 horses eligible in June to the 24 pre-entered last week to 11 predicted starters Wednesday, only nine were in the $750,000 Budweiser International when entries closed yesterday for the turf race Sunday.
In 38 runnings, the event has had many costly and frustrating defections, and yesterday, when officials at Laurel Race Course got a phone call from trainer Angel Penna Jr., it was more bad news in a season that has abounded with it.
Penna called to scratch the mare Laugh and Be Merry, who might be in line for an Eclipse Award as a female turf runner.
"She was going to blow out a half-mile before going to Laurel," Penna said from Belmont Park, "but there was swelling in her left front leg. I don't know exactly what's wrong, but she can't run Sunday.
"She's got a great record against the mares, but I wanted to get at least one race against the colts and I was hoping this might be the race.
"She probably won't race again this year, but the owner wants to run her next year. You never know about these horses. They're all subject to getting hurt."
Trainer Neil Drysdale withdrew the colt, Two Timing, from the race. Drysdale had hinted Wednesday that the colt might be dropped, and he said yesterday that owner Richard Santulli realized Two Timing wasn't up to the 1 1/4 -mile International.
Of the 24 horses pre-entered for the International, a West Coast dTC horse, Classic Fame, was the leading one to wind up injured. Others dropped out because their owners preferred a richer Breeders' Cup race or didn't want to travel.
Injuries weren't limited to International horses yesterday. A Maryland sprinter, Northern Wolf, cracked a sesamoid after a workout in preparation for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint next week and was retired. The $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile lost a good one when Hansel, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity, wrenched a left hind ankle.
He won't race again until he preps for the Kentucky Derby.
Since the race began in 1952 as the Washington D.C. International, dozens of horses have failed to make it to Laurel after their trainers made commitments to run.
There have been missed connections of planes from Europe, injuries and fears that a horse might be inferior to the opposition.
Twenty-five countries have been represented here, and 13 winners have come from France. Nineteen winners have been from the United States.
Here from France for the 39th running are favored Creator (pronounced Cree-a-TOR) and a filly, Ode.
Until he tailed off in July, Creator was the best runner in Europe. He beat the best of France in two Grade I events, the Prix d'Ispahan and the Prix Ganay.
Ode, a daughter of the Kentucky stallion, Lord Avie, has a precedent for females winning this race. Dahlia won in 1973, Nobilliary in 1975, April Run in 1982 and All Along in 1983.
Ode was third as favorite in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 23, then was flown back to trainer Elle Lellouche's barn in France.
She returned to the United States on Wednesday and was listed as an 8-1 shot for the International.
In the Grade II Prix d'Harcourt in Longchamp, France, Creator was the winner, 11 lengths ahead of Ode, who was sixth.
Ode was assigned the No. 6 post for Sunday's race, next to Creator, who got No. 5.
Batshoof, the only other foreign horse in the International, represents England, which has had two winners of the race. Batshoof is second choice in the first odds line to be released.
He will be ridden by Pat Eddery, the leading jockey in England this year, and drew the No. 8 post.
Ten Keys, the likely third choice, got the No. 3 post. He comes off a winning race, the John Henry Handicap at the Meadowlands, and has earned about $1.2 million since Charlie Linhoss claimed him for $14,500 and trainer Mike Pino tried him on turf.
Ten Keys will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who was expected to be aboard Daisy Dance for trainer Maurice Zilber in the All Along Stakes on International day. However, an owner of Daisy Dance contracted to have Chris Antley ride her.
Laurel will take advance betting on the International when the mutuel windows open tomorrow.