LAUREL -- In describing the running style of Fly Till Dawn, trainer Darrell Vienna said before yesterday's Budweiser International that the California colt "does not bend to the will of man."
It was the kind of comment that might be expected from Vienna, 44. He is a writer of television scripts. He used to write for the show "Hill Street Blues," even while training horses on the West Coast.
Fly Till Dawn's pattern has been to run well when least expected and to frustrate his handlers. He would set the pace in races where he would be better off coming off the pace, and occasionally, some horse would best him that shouldn't have.
But in midafternoon at Laurel Race Course, soon after the starting gate opened for the $750,000 Budweiser International, it became evident that this was to be one of Fly Till Dawn's better days.
No worse than second at any point in the 1 1/4 -mile race, Fly Till Dawn rallied past front-running Double Booked with three-sixteenths of a mile remaining, and romped in first at $17.10-1.
Laffit Pincay Jr. rode the winner, a son of Swing Till Dawn and bred by Josephine Gleis, owner of yesterday's hero.
It was the fourth-biggest upset in the history of this race, which started the trend of International racing in 1952. Fly Till Dawn was sixth choice yesterday.
It was Fly Till Dawn's second stakes victory, and the 20th for the United States in 39 runnings of the International. He earned $450,000, almost double his bankroll going into the International.
The prospects for a 20th victory by a foreign horse fell mainly to the 4-year-old filly, Ode, who rallied sharply in the style of French horses. Ode moved from eighth in a field of nine but fell short by 1 1/4 lengths.
Ode earned second prize of $150,000 and finished a neck in front of Creator, another French horse who went off as 2.40-1 favorite.
Fourth came Batshoof, followed by Double Booked, Ten Keys, My Big Boy, Aksar and Phantom Breeze.
Pincay hinted that he recognized Fly Till Dawn might be a winner the first time past the stands with little less than a mile to go.
"My main concern was to get him to relax," Pincay said. "He has tremendous ability, but if he can relax the first part, he is a much better horse. He was doing it nice and easy.
"When I asked him to move [on the final turn], he really accelerated. I knew they were really going and would have to catch him. He went to the lead, and I wasn't even hitting him yet. When I switched my whip, he responded and finished very well."
Pincay added: "I was able to get him off the pace, and that's why he finished so well today. The pace was slow, and I let the other horse [Double Booked] make the lead. He lasted a lot longer than I thought he would, probably because of the slow pace. But when my horse got to run, he put them away."
Pincay was guiding in his second International winner. He booted in Le Glorieux to win in 1987 for West Germany.
Dominque Boeuf rode Ode, the French filly. "We had a good trip, he said. "She was well in gear in early stretch. We had a good turn of speed, but the winner was too much."
Fly Till Dawn was timed in 2:01 1/5, compared to the course record of 1:59 2/5. The course was listed yesterday as firm.
But jockey Mike Smith wasn't so sure about the turf texture. Smith, on Phantom Breeze, was last at 5-1.
"He didn't fire," Smith said of Bert Firestone's colt. "We were right there on the backstretch, and I went on with him, but he ran for about a sixteenth of a mile, and that was it. I'm shocked. He was feeling good, pulled up good. Maybe the turf tired him out. It's still a little soft."
Jose Santos, on the favorite Creator, from France, couldn't understand why that colt was only third.
"He didn't make the last turn," Santos said. "He came out of it bad. We looked pretty good there for a while. We had a clear trip until then. We probably should have been second. But he lugged out so bad on the turn. We weren't going to beat the winner anyway, though. He won so easy."
Fly Till Dawn hadn't won a stakes race until he scored a 12-1 upset in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 12. But Vienna reveled that the 4-year-old colt was headed for Laurel long before that.
"When you consider the time when you first had to nominate for this race [June 29], figure that's when he was headed here. Mrs. Gleis takes care of things like that."