LAUREL -- Is it really that easy? As easy as 1-2-3? Or, for added emphasis, as easy as 1-2-3-4?
The two-day Turf Festival ended with a distinctive European aspect at Laurel Race Course yesterday. The foreign runners entered in the All Along Stakes swept the top four spots, completing a weekend that in which they crushed their American opposition.
The Laurel turf was soft yesterday, as it was Saturday, when French runners filled the top three spots in the Budweiser International. In yesterday's 1 1/8 -mile All Along Stakes, Sha Tha, from France, led the European contingent with a wire-to-wire, half-length victory over Julie La Rousse, from Ireland. Once In My Life was third and Ville d'Amore fourth in a field of 11 fillies and mares.
Soft turf is the surface of choice for European runners. Sha Tha "relaxed very well," said Mike Smith, her New York-based rider. "When that other horse came to her, it helped her. It woke her up and she dug in."
"She was just bouncing around," said Simon Crisford, representing the stable of owner Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum of Dubai, who did not attend. Trainer Andre Fabre also was absent, and Smith was in such a hurry to catch a flight that he did not stay for ceremonies.
Smith's riding savvy may have saved the race from being won by Once In My Life, ridden by Angel Cordero. Smith and Jerry Bailey, on Julie La Rousse, kept Once In My Life pinned on the rail through the stretch run. An objection against Julie La Rousse on behalf of Once In My Life was not upheld.
Sha Tha, a 3-year-old, was purchased privately as a yearling by her owner. Her sire, Mr. Prospector, is one of the greatest progenitors of the last 15 years, and her mare, Savannah Dancer, cost $2.5 million at a 1983 sale.
Crisford said Sha Tha would probably remain in the United States and be turned over to Neil Drysdale, a California trainer. Crisford said he doubted the filly would run in the upcoming Breeders' Cup.
Although Christiecat, based in New York, was the 2-1 race favorite, that role probably would have gone to Miss Josh, the Laurel-based star. But trainer Barclay Tagg submitted a scratch for the mare in mid-afternoon, later saying: "It's a tough thing, but the ground was just too soft."
Miss Josh is a leading Eclipse Award candidate for top filly-mare turf runner, but it may take a win in another major race for her to win it.
"We'll keep her here and if the conditions are better, we'll probably run her in that Grade III here" -- the Chrysanthemum on Nov. 16, said Tagg. "In any event, it looks like we'll have to go to California" for the 1 1/8 -mile Matriarch at Hollywood Park on Dec. 1.
There was no European domination in the first Turf Festival race of the day, the Laurel Dash, but there was a good reason: In a field of six, all represented the United States.
Forest Glow, a California shipper ridden by Cordero, led throughout to win by six lengths. He "handled [the turf] good enough," said Cordero. "He was climbing at the beginning, but he's a very good horse."
Robinski, under Julie Krone, rallied to overtake Hadif for second. Krone and Bailey, Hadif's rider, appeared to misjudge the finish line briefly, although it didn't affect the outcome. Both stood up in their saddles a sixteenth-mile before the second, and lesser-used, wire.
Double Booked, a record-setter four different times in 1991 when racing on firmer turf at longer distances, finished last, beaten over 27 lengths.
Meanwhile, agent Steve Rushing said he and Maryland-based jockey Edgar Prado had received dozens of congratulations for their triumph in Saturday's International. Rushing secured the mount for Prado on Leariva on Friday morning.
"My hand is sore from shaking so many hands," said Rushing.
Plans for Leariva were not firm yesterday, although an interpreter for the stable said the filly may be headed to California.
Leariva's 44-1 upset followed victories by France's Ken de Saron in the Selima Stakes and Smiling And Dancin in the Laurel Futurity. Smiling And Dancin, a New York based colt, provided the only bright spot in an otherwise dreary Turf Festival for American horses.
NOTES: Almost enough money has been bet into the DoublTriple to potentially offset the track's $100,000 jackpot guarantee, in effect since Oct. 12. The carry-over could begin to build past 6 figures by Thursday. . . . Through 10 racing days, Prado leads the jockeys' standings with 12 winners, 2 more than Mike Luzzi and 3 more than Rick Wilson.
Turf Festival winners
Budweiser International..... Leariva (France)
Selima Stakes..... ..... ... Ken de Saron (France)
Laurel Futurity... ..... ... Smiling And Dancin (U.S.)
Laurel Dash....... ..... ... Forest Glow (U.S.)
All Along Stakes........ ... Sha Tha (France)