LAUREL -- A typical response of French visitors i International Village the past week has been a shrug of the shoulders with one hand pointed forward, palm down, then jiggled so that at first the thumb is elevated, then drops as the little finger goes high.
The gesture seems to suggest a meaning of "so-so," or mayb"no real feeling." Then again, few of the French horsemen at Laurel Race Course for the $750,000 Budweiser International today are able or willing to speak English, and often hide their feelings behind the language barrier.
But when asked yesterday about the French filly Ode, several othem could not fool anyone. None of those asked works with Ode, owned by Daniel Wildenstein, but they all have strong opinions.
"Aha," one said, suddenly showing excitement.
"So good," another said with a grin. "She runs well, and the iron is hot now."
They like her chances in the 39th International, which has ninstarters.
Creator, also from France, is favored for the 2:40 p.m. race, anan English horse, Batshoof, is second choice.
Somewhere in the middle of six American runners in the odds iOde. She could be 5-1 or slightly higher, as she seeks to become the 14th French winner of the International.
American horses have won the race 19 times. Batshoof, whcould be the third winner from England, is to be treated with the bleeder medication Lasix for the first time, so that could be a factor, especially in determining which of the two is to be favored. Many times, a horse racing with Lasix the first time shows dramatic improvement.
Should Ode win today, she would have a chance of becoming the first horse to capture the International and come back to win in the Breeders' Cup series. A victory in both would make her the top turf horse in America, and, depending on what happens in other Breeders' Cup races, she might become U.S. Horse of the Year.
Trainer Elle Lellouche said he is considering starting the filly ithe $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf race at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Lellouche pre-entered the filly in both races, as did several othetrainers with their horses. The others dropped out of the International, however, and are in New York awaiting the Breeders' Cup. Lellouche kept Ode in this race, and said yesterday that he is "considering the Breeders' Cup race."
An interpreter said yesterday: "A decision will be made Mondaya day after the International."
The Laurel race is at 1 1/4 miles, and the Breeders' Cup Turf is 1 1/2 miles.
Ode is a 4-year-old and will carry only 123 pounds todaycompared with 126 by the older males. One 3-year-old colt, Aksar, carries low weight of 122.
Ode first got American attention when Lellouche brought heover for the Man o' War at Belmont, in which she ran third as favorite, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Defensive Play.
Then, Lellouche had Ode flown back to his training center neaParis. The filly returned Wednesday with 13 other European horses.
"It's amazing how these people ship horses around," said DrRobert Vallance, a Maryland veterinarian, as he watched several European horses enter the track for training.
"They bring them over [from Europe], get past the quarantinethen start training them as if they were vanned over from the next town. The horses look good, too."
Ode is to be ridden by Dominique Boeuf, who has been aboarin most of her races the past two years. He was riding when she beat males in the Group II Grande Prix d'Evry and when she was second to In The Wings in the Group I Grand Prix de St. Cloud.
She has done especially well on soft footing, but John PasseroLaurel's director of turf and race courses, said the turf will be firm today.
Can she handle firm footing?
Ask that of the French horsemen who have seen her race anyou get that shrug with the jiggling hand.
Double Booked also will be treated with Lasix today. She habeen treated with the diuretic in her past four races, one of which was the Battlefield at Monmouth Park, which he won by 2 1/4 lengths.
The best race this year for Creator was the Group I Prid'Ispahan at Longchamp, in Paris, in late May. He seems to have tailed off since then.
Batshoof seemed best in winning the Group II Prince of WaleStakes.
Ten Keys, a Maryland-bred, won his latest start, the John HenrStakes at the Meadowlands. He will draw strong backing because he is to be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, a favorite in Maryland before he moved to California.
Of the other American horses, Aksar, here from California, rapoorly there. Fly Till Dawn took the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar in his last start. My Big Boy, in from Belmont Park, hasn't won since capturing the Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream Park in April. Phantom Breeze has won his past two -- the Manhattan at Belmont and the Louisiana Downs Handicap.