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The grass may not be greener

Roman Brother is now the best U.S. handicap horse, but he will find the going a good bit different on the turf in the International

Since the turn of the decade there hasn't been much point in horsemen training their best stock to run in a two-mile classic like The Jockey Club Gold Cup. Kelso was around and won five straight cups on his way to five straight Horse of the Year championships. But a few weeks ago Kelso suffered a serious eye infection which in all likelihood will force his permanent retirement, and so it seemed perfectly routine last week at Aqueduct for Lou Wolfson's Roman Brother, who had finished second to Kelso a year ago, to move up to the winner's circle. He became the first Gold Cup recipient other than Kelso since Sword Dancer walked in way back in 1959.

In the process of beating second-place Berenjenal and five other undistinguished horses, Roman Brother picked up $71,500 and his fifth win in 13 starts this year. So overshadowed has he been for most of his career (he is still only a 4-year-old) that it is a little hard to believe he has now won 15 of 39 lifetime starts and a total of $920,203. Only six horses in racing history—Kelso, Round Table, Nashua, Carry Back, Citation and Swoon's Son—have earned more than this in their careers. If Roman Brother can latch on to the $90,000 that goes to the winner of the Nov. 11 Washington, D.C., International at Laurel he will move up still another notch in the overall standings, clinch Horse of the Year honors, and become the sixth equine millionaire in history.

Winning the International, however—a mile and a half on turf—may not be quite as easy for Roman Brother as was his cakewalk in the Gold Cup. True, American entries have won seven of the 13 previous Internationals (and five of the last six), but most of these victories were achieved by horses with some sort of established grass form—horses like Kelso, Mongo, T.V. Lark and Bald Eagle. Roman Brother has no grass form to speak of—only one start at Saratoga, in which he was a lackluster fifth. The other U.S. entry, Hail to All, winner of the Belmont and Travers, was to race on grass for the first time anywhere early this week at Aqueduct. No matter how good these American representatives turn out to be over a strange surface (both, incidentally, are Florida-bred products of Ocala Stud farms), they may discover the hard way that foreign distance horses are tough competitors in Maryland. Though Sea Bird, Reliance and Russia's Anilin (the first, second and fifth to finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe) declined invitations, Diatome, third in the Arc, is coming to represent France and will be a strong late runner. As for the early running, Roman Brother showed in the Gold Cup that he is capable of forcing—or even making—the pace. The English are high on Super Sam, winner of his last five and already a victor this year over Oncidium and Soderini; and Canada's George Royal beat Hill Rise and Duel in the mile-and-three-quarters San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita last winter. Any of these horses is capable of winning the most wide-open Laurel race in years. And the fact that it is wide open for a change is probably a good thing for the sport of international racing.

If any foreigner wins, it will demonstrate to the entrepreneurs at Laurel that it might be wiser, instead of inviting the name horses like Roman Brother and Hail to All, to ask our most successful grass horses to run. This year they are Parka and Hill Rise. Of course, it may not be necessary to debate this question after the International, because when Roman Brother steps out on the Laurel turf, regardless of who shows up from across the Atlantic, he will represent the best class this country has to offer.