LAUREL — LAUREL -- After the Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes at Laurel Race Course yesterday, management followed its tradition of playing the national anthem for the country represented by the winner of each race.
Both races are on turf, the main footing for good European horses, and they usually attract well-bred entrants from England and France.
In each case, the music was a long rendition of "La Marsellaise," the anthem of France, but in the winner's circle, the talk was only about Texas.
And, the winners originally had come from Kentucky and Ireland.
There were many similarities. Both winners earned $180,000 from $300,000 guaranteed purses. Each was ridden by Cash Asmussen, a native Texan who wowed New York racing fans 12 years ago before moving to France.
Both were favorites from Paris who rallied with moves from last place to win close races.
First, Asmussen guided Tycoon's Drama from seventh to win the Selima over six other fillies while wearing the silks of Richard Strauss, from Dallas and the son of Bob Strauss, former Democratic National Committee chairman and longtime fan at Maryland tracks.
Richard Straus said his partner in the ownership of Tycoon's Drama was Robert Aubert, and they had bred the filly in Ireland.
But as the French anthem was played, Strauss talked about the hopes for racing in Texas, where a political dispute has arisen over laws for prospective new tracks.
"This is about as close as we're going to get to racing in Texas if they don't change the take-out law," he said, referring to the key dispute of the Texas racing law concerning the proposed tax on betting dollars.
Strauss was so excited after Tycoon's Drama was made official at $6 that he asked Asmussen if he had any other mounts on the card.
"I have one more, in the Laurel Futurity," said the jockey, who didn't bother to tell him that he was to ride River Traffic, an even stronger favorite than Tycoon's Drama.
Although Tycoon's Drama was bred in Ireland, she has raced only in France. She had been bothered in her next-to-last race, and had suffered a cut to a hind leg in her final French race, the Prix d'Amimale on Sept. 11.
"If she hadn't gotten cut," trainer Collet said through an interpreter, "we would have run her in the biggest French race for 2-year-old fillies. She had to miss it."
Tycoon's Drama will return to France for another campaign next year.
"She didn't break and run," Asmussen said. "I wasn't really happy down the back. We were going slow, but nobody was going easy in front. They weren't cruising. I knew my filly would finish well, and she did."
As the leaders approached the finish line, Asmussen became confused and kept his mount in a drive even after the wire.
There is a second finish line at Laurel for other races, and Asmussen wasn't sure which one was in use.
"We have several finish lines at French tracks," he said. "I was told not to misjudge the finish line here, but I thought they said it was the second finish. So I kept her cruising just in case."
She reached the wire first in 1 minute, 44 4/5 seconds on firm turf. It was the same time as recorded by the winning colt two races later.
When River Traffic came to the starting gate for the Laurel Futurity, it was against 12 other males and the eventual winner was the public choice. He paid $5.40 in winning his second race in five starts.
Asmussen brought River Traffic, a Kentucky-bred, from 12th to win by a neck over front-running Fourstars Allstar.
Mike Smith, rider of Fourstars Allstar, said: "The turf was soft, and he might have wavered a little."
Jockey Herb McCauley, third with Share the Glory, claimed foul. "I was impeded enough for me to claim foul," he said. "The inside horse came out and I thought it cost me second money."
The Laurel stewards disagreed and disallowed the claim.
The Futurity winner is owned by Henri Chalhoub, a Lebanese businessman who lives in Paris. The trainer is John Hammond, an Englishman who grew up in Ireland. River Traffic cost $45,000 at the Keeneland Fall Yearling Sales in 1989.
"This colt had no problems getting accustomed to the different ways horses race in France," Hammond said. "About half of the races go clockwise and the other half counter-clockwise, but this colt was bought by Keith Asmussen [Cash's father], and he was taken to Texas to be broken and gotten ready to race. Then he went to France. So you see, this was somewhat of a family success for the Asmussens.
"I didn't like the post position we drew," Hammond said, referring to the No. 13 post. "I was worried about it, but I never considered scratching.
"Cash has said he thinks this colt could do well on the dirt, so we may want to bring him back next spring."
His reference was for the Triple Crown series.
Trainer Dermot Weld brought Go and Go to the United States in June last year and won the Laurel Futurity, which had been switched to the main track.
Weld then sent him out to win the Belmont Stakes.