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There can hardly be a more potent stimulus for the promotion of international sport than the almost unbelievable sight of a rank outsider winning a major event. The horse racing world was in for just such a surprise at Laurel, Md. last Friday when two representatives from Venezuela—El Chama and Prendase—finished first and second over the strongest field yet gathered for the mile-and-a-half Washington, D.C. International.
Nobody pretended to know the true form of all the 13 entrants, who came from seven countries. But there for all to see in the charts was a glittering array of past performances by name horses from Longchamp to Santa Anita. Flying American colors were such as Alfred Vanderbilt's Social Outcast, who in his last start set a Garden State track record, and Clifford Mooers' Traffic Judge, who already this season had pressed Nashua and then Swaps to the limit. From abroad came the Irish Derby winner Panaslipper, the King Edward VII Stakes victor, Nucleus, and the French filly Picounda. Somewhere, in the confusion of picking which of these proved runners would be most likely to succeed, the names of El Chama and Prendase were all but forgotten. Forgotten, that is, by every one except a large and happy throng of Venezuelans who descended on the Laurel $50 windows with supreme confidence.
The race itself was a thriller. Prendase took the lead after a mile from the Canadian Prefect 2nd; at the same time El Chama, who had been running fifth, made his move. Coming into the stretch, El Chama trailed Prendase by less than two lengths and nailed him by a head in the last few strides. By that time the only contender was Social Outcast, but he appeared to hang a bit at just the moment when everyone, including his jockey, Eric Guerin, thought he would pass the invaders. Eric summed up the race perfectly later when he said, "Those damn horses just wouldn't quit."
The Venezuela success story has a unique fairy tale aspect to it which will probably put this fourth International into the record books as one of the year's top human interest stories. Back home in Caracas, El Chama and Prendase are regarded as the local Swaps and Nashua. Both of them, incidentally, were bred in Argentina but, racing in Caracas, they have rung up some quite incredible records. Prendase, for instance, was undefeated in six starts this year, while El Chama won six out of 10 races and competed at distances ranging from seven furlongs to two miles. In their last race Prendase had beaten El Chama to earn an expense-free invitation to Laurel's International. This was so upsetting to El Chama's owner, Dr. Carlos Vogeler Rincones (who felt he had the better horse), that he requested permission from Laurel President John D. Schapiro to become an added starter with the understanding that he would pay his own way. Mr. Schapiro, a former Eagle Scout who has retained—even while running a race track—the honorable habit of trying to do a good deed a day, said sure, come along, we'll make room for you. El Chama came, and as he stood in the winner's circle the news of his victory was hitting Caracas with such an impact that local papers gave it more of a play than the Brazilian revolution. One editorial said joyously, "Since the winning of the Miss World beauty contest in London by a Venezuelan girl, no news has pleased us so much as the triumph of our horses El Chama and Prendase."
AMERICA FALLING BEHIND
Now that foreign horses have won three of the four Internationals on the Laurel turf, it would appear that the U.S. has suffered an appreciable loss of prestige. Actually, the great performances by El Chama and Prendase should stimulate more interest in future renewals of the race. For one thing, it should teach us to be more respectful of racing form on the South American circuit. Even more important, it should create incentive to point the very best American distance horses specifically for this race. If we are going to claim supremacy in this phase of international sport, it's now up to our best horses to come forward and prove they can do it.
In the meantime, the honors belong to El Chama and his smiling jockey, 32-year-old Raul Bustamante, whose moment of glory came at the expense of the world's greatest riders. When I asked his interpreter what Bustamante's prerace orders had been, the jockey broke into a broad grin and launched a rapid-fire dissertation in Spanish.
"What did he say?" I asked.
In broken English the reply was, "He say they no give no too much orders in Venezuela. Only orders is 'You ween!' "