LAUREL -- Horses, Darrell Vienna explained after the Budweiser International yesterday, are just like us.
They either like a place, or they don't.
Fortunately for Vienna, the vibes at Laurel produced such a radical change in his high-strung colt, Fly Till Dawn, that he altered his normal, run-away free-spirited self.
He relaxed under the sunny almost balmy skies, and unexpectedly came from off the pace to win nearly a half million dollars for his owner, Josephine Gleis of Newport Beach, Calif.
It was the biggest payday ever for the Kentucky-bred colt and Mrs. Gleis, and a pretty fair one also for Vienna and winning jockey Laffit Pincay.
"That was my main concern -- to get him to relax," Pincay said. "He has tremendous ability, but if he can relax the first part of a race, he is a much better horse."
Pincay had reason for concern. Last year he rode another rank California colt, In Extremis, and finished next to last after being almost hauled out of the saddle around the first turn.
For handicappers, who rely more on past performances than amateur psychology, the result was a mild shock. Dismissed at odds of 17-1, Fly Till Dawn was acknowledged to be the real speed in the race -- a confirmed one-dimensional front-runner who could run the first six furlongs of a 9-furlong race in 1:09 and change, and then hang on for second and third, if he was lucky. He had never raced or won at the 10-furlong International distance.
He was expected to engage in a suicide pace with the other speed horse, Double Booked, and he was the one supposed to supply the high octane.
Instead, it was almost a lackadaisical Fly Till Dawn that stalked Double Booked past the duck pond into the first turn and let him set ploddingly slow early fractions of 48 seconds for a half mile and 1:12 3/5 seconds for the first six furlongs.
"I knew he was happy here from the way he trained and that's what I told Laffit," Vienna said. "Sometimes if he likes a place, he gets very relaxed. I asked him to rate him if he could. But when I saw the slow early fractions, I thought maybe I was wrong. That instead of relaxed, he was just plain dull and wasn't going to run his race at all."
Instead, whether it was the calming influence of Pincay or the feel of excellent footing on the turf course or who-knows-what goes through the head of a thoroughbred, Fly Till Dawn swept up at the head of the stretch to match strides with a tiring Double Booked.
"He went to the lead and I wasn't even hitting him," Pincay said. Still fresh, Fly Till Dawn accelerated in the stretch and had plenty left to hold off the rallying French filly, Ode, by 1 1/4 lengths. Favored French colt, Creator, finished third.
The time of 2 minutes 1 1/5 seconds bettered the stakes record for 1 1/4 miles by more than a second although it was four-fifths of a second slower than the track record set by Storm On The Loose in 1986.
It was Pincay's second International win in four tries. He also won in 1987 on the German colt Le Glorieux.
For Vienna, it was a gratifying victory. In addition to training 40 horses at Santa Anita, Vienna, 44, also is a published poet, once wrote a story line for the TV series "Hill Street Blues" that was developed into a script for the show, and now attends law school on a part-time basis at night.
Later in the card, the Dash also provided a major upset. American jockey Jose Santos didn't provide enough hustle on even-money favorite Ron's Victory once he got to the front. Instead of going on with him, which French horses seem to expect in the stretch, Santos relaxed and the horse was caught at the wire by 39-1 long shot Roman Prose.
The 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding had won only one race this year and he had to travel to Germany to do that.
"He's had more German campaigns than Charlemagne," quipped his owner, Englishman H.C. Seymour.
The horse's trainer, Jonathan Pease, who is English but bases his stable in France, explained: "He's a small horse and is asked to carry a lot of weight. That's why we ship him all over Europe, looking for the right race with the lowest weight, and that's why we came here."
Roman Prose was ridden by 20-year-old Franco Dettori, whom Pease described as the "hottest young jockey in England."
Roman Prose was the third French-based runner to win a Turf Festival race. On Saturday, both 2-year-old races were won by French-trained horses. Tycoon's Darma won the Selima Stakes and River Traffic won the Laurel Futurity. Both juveniles were ridden by Texas-born Cash Asmussen, who is now a leading rider in France. Instead of competing in the remaining Turf Festival races yesterday, Asmussen returned to Paris where he rode six races on the Longchamp card.
The final race of the Turf Festival series almost produced its first Maryland-based winner. Miss Josh, trained by Barclay Tagg, looked a certain winner, but lost by a nose to New York-based Foresta.
"She's a competitive filly and only seems to run best when she's got another horse to run down. Most of her winning or losing margins are by a head or a neck," said trainer Thomas Bohannon.
Foresta scratched out of the Breeders' Cup Mile this coming weekend to run at Laurel, where she was hard-ridden by Angel Cordero Jr.
Cordero misjudged the finish line, which was moved back from the finish line for the International and Dash, but won anyway.
"She's a hard filly to ride," Cordero said. "She's got a lot of ability, but doesn't put out all the time. I didn't even know where the wire was because I was riding so hard. I kept riding to the other wire [once I caught Miss Josh]. I was so desperate to get there."
Bohannon, 35, is a member of the so-called "606 Club," a group of Kentucky-born trainers based in New York that also includes Shug McGaughey and Rusty Arnold.
"They call us that," Bohannon explained, "because that's the [telephone] area code in Lexington."