The Breeders' Cup World Championships is wonderful, invaluable to racing...and thank God we have it.
However, what a shame that its late fall timing killed the most wonderfully glamorous and unique race of its time—the Washington D.C. International.
This race was run for many years at Laurel Park. Conceived by John Schapiro, Laurel's very stylish owner, the invitational grass race at a mile and a half attracted the stellar turf runners of every major racing nation. Dogwood's horse Nassipour was an American representative in 1984.
But it was a dog—not a horse—that was the star that year.
Schapiro glamorized the International marvelously, by surrounding it with glittering parties. It was a highlight of Washington's fall social season. Usually one of the major embassies hosted a beautiful dinner. In 1984 Canada did the honors.
Washington was seriously cold that weekend and, unfortunately, the party's size required a large tent for the dinner portion of the event. But cocktails were served inside in the lovely embassy foyer.
Our Dogwood contingent was bowled over by the gorgeous party and its extremely elegant setting. And we were charmed when we observed the ambassador's family dog, a tremendous Irish Wolfhound, wandering amiably among the distinguished guests during cocktail hour. This was a very appealing, "down home" touch to what otherwise could have been a rather stuffy affair.
Ambassadors whose countries had entrants in the race were all present. That year, Russia—despite the still chilly Cold War relationship with the United States—was represented by a horse in the International. That country's ambassador was certainly there, and he was most distinctive. He was tall and spare, with prominent features supporting a huge, but very patrician, nose. He had a luxuriant head of wiry, gray hair that swept back in wild profusion from a high, pallid, blue-veined forehead. He looked like a mad scientist or a symphony conductor.
When the dinner hour was announced, we filed apprehensively into the uncomfortable climate of the tent (we are talking cold!). Space heaters blew hot air throughout the spacious tent, and the embassy staff actually handed out thermal socks as we went in.
Our table for 10 happened to be adjacent to the Russian ambassador's, and we watched with interest as this stork of a man stalked somberly past us. He was clad in a dramatic, floor-length fur coat, ideal for Russian winters and not a bad idea for this night in Washington. After removing and draping the coat over the back of the chair, he seated himself.
The congenial family dog had also strolled in with the other guests. Undaunted by the frigid conditions, he had reclined between the two tables to await the evenings proceedings.
The meal was served, the wine replenished generously, and the party was going nicely, considering the temperature.
After dessert and coffee, the Canadian ambassador rose to toast the fine horses that would face the starter the next day. He then remarked on the great, healing significance of friendly competition at the International at a time in Cold War history when relations between many nations were tenuous.
The Russian ambassador decided at this juncture that he was cold, and he shrugged himself into his great fur coat.
With that, the huge dog, dozing several feet away, jolted to attention. He jumped up and stood riveted by this heretofore unobserved large, hairy object. His head was lowered like that of a bull before a charge.
Inexplicably, this animal (who stood a good six feet tall when on his back legs) leapt onto the back of the unsuspecting diplomat, planted his front legs on the man's shoulders, and began—with astounding enthusiasm—to make love to this irresistibly attractive, furry creature.
Thrusting vigorously, with a seriously rapt demeanor about him, this dog now completely stole the attention of the entire party. The host began to falter slightly in his remarks but could hardly stop and scream at his "pet." He had no choice but to continue gamely.
But the "mother of all dilemmas" lay with the Russian ambassador; never would his skills of diplomacy be so severely tested.
First he looked around with some understandable surprise to ascertain the nature of the attack. When he had assessed the situation, he addressed the problem by shrugging his shoulders discouragingly and glaring menacingly at the beast, while uttering a sharp but well-modulated command. It did not work.
The huge wolfhound picked up the tempo, if anything.
What a problem! The ambassador must bring closure to this unseemly episode. The speaker was by now just going through the motions; the audience was tittering audibly, and some members were in stitches. Everyone in the tent was aware of this spectacle.
The ambassador had several choices, none of them promising.
He could get up and walk out. But this was fraught with risk. He couldn't be sure just what the response of the Irish Wolfhound might be. Would this stimulate him further? Then, too, how would it play that a high-ranking diplomat was vanquished from the field by the amorous attentions of a large dog!
He could turn and smite the dog forcefully, sending a signal that this activity was not at all suitable for this occasion. But we're talking here about a very, very large dog, in a most intense frame of mind. Would this be a judicious course of action? Of considerably less significance at this point, the animal was the house pet of the host (who would have cheerfully slit the animal's throat right about then).
Third, he could try removing the garment that triggered all this misery in the first place.
The Russian did take off the coat, struggling mightily and trying not to stand up and attract further attention while he did so. He then tossed the troublesome garment several feet away between the tables. This did the trick.
The dog, now dismounted, looked completely crestfallen. He stared first at the now inanimate fur coat, then at the seething ambassador. Had he been able to shrug his shoulders as if to say, "Well, it was nice while it lasted," he would have done so. He then lay down to resume his nap.
By this time the party was in complete chaos. Amidst audible giggling, the host lamely finished his lofty remarks. We clapped politely, adjourned, and headed for valet parking, with the Russian ambassador leading the way.