LAUREL — LAUREL -- Look for a big chestnut horse with a white blaze to lead the field into the first turn on Saturday in the 41st running of the Budweiser International.
His name is Zoman.
He could be the best hope for a victory by a British-based runner in the $750,000 Grade I race since Karabas' success in 1969.
"He plays catch-me-if-you-can. If he comes away [from the gate] running on Saturday, then he has a good chance," said his English lad, Robert Latham, looking a bit bleary-eyed yesterday after a trans-Atlantic flight from London. "Sometimes they catch him. Sometimes they don't."
So far, Zoman has been a cut below the top horses. The 16.2-hand, Kentucky-bred son of Triple Crown winner Affirmed was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland by Prince Fahd Salman, a member of Saudi Arabia's ruling family.
Zoman broke his maiden in his only start as a 2-year-old at Chepstow in Wales. Then, after finishing second the next spring in the French 2,000 Guineas, he was one of the favorites for the 1990 English Derby.
He ended up seventh, beaten by almost 10 lengths.
"He couldn't get the 1 1/2 miles," Latham said. "He ran well up for 10 furlongs, which we now have figured out is his best distance -- a mile to 1 1/4 miles [the International distance]."
After that race, the horse's trainer, Paul Cole, who operates a 120-horse string out of his own Whatcombe training center near Lambourn, decided on a European campaign.
During the next two years, the colt raced and won stakes in Italy, Scotland, Ireland and France. He was balloted out of the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, but finally broke through the Grade I barrier last spring in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamps.
Cole might not even make it to the International. He plans o running two horses Saturday in the Rothmanns International in Toronto and could invade Keeneland the next weekend with Culture Vulture.
Cole is best known in this country for saddling Ibn Bey to second-place finish behind Unbridled in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Classic.
But in Europe, Cole became renowned after winning the 1991 English Derby with Generous.
"Zoman was the only horse we had in the barn that could keep up with Generous, at least for 1 1/4 miles," Latham said. "After that Generous took over."
Latham took care of both horses. Generous, apparently, was what his name implied -- an amazing animal, Latham said, a kind horse that never took a wrong step. Zoman, however, "is a hard nut," Latham added. "He likes to push you around."
Zoman will be ridden in the International by Alan Munro, Prince Fahd's stable jockey. Munro was aboard the horse when he finished sixth and fifth, respectively, in his last two starts, the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and the Juddmonte International at York.
"But in both those races, he ran against the best horses in Europe," Latham said.
Among the horses he did beat in the Coral Eclipse was Young Buster, another promising English runner that accompanied Zoman to Laurel and faces him again on Saturday.
Young Buster, in contrast to Zoman, runs from off the pace. He was one of the early favorites for the 1991 English Derby, but went lame and missed the race.
Since then his record has been spotty, in contrast to Zoman, who has been more consistent.
NOTES: A field of 10 horses appears set for the Budweiser International. Four French and four American runners are expected to face the two English invaders. . . . Two of the foreign runners in two of the other International Turf Festival races will remain in this country. Central City, a big 3-year-old filly, owned by George Strawbridge, runs in the Laurel Dash. She is trained by Philip Hannon, who sent over My Memoirs to finish second in this year's Belmont Stakes. However, Central City, who will be ridden by Pat Eddery in the Dash, will join Jonathan Sheppard's Pennsylvania string after this weekend. . . . Poolesta, an Irish filly owned by Malcolm Parrish , will go to New York and join the string of Angel Penna, Jr. after a try in the Laurel Dash. Parrish owned Julie La Rousse, last year's runner-up in the All Along Stakes . . . . Proud Truth, sire of Stem The Tide, winner on Monday of the Queen Isabella Handicap, has not been moved to Virginia. Corbett Farm owner Lehr Jackson reported yesterday that the horse continues to stand in Maryland for a $3,500 fee. Proud Truth has been represented this year by three stakes winners, Dr. Pain, Truth of It All and Stem The Tide. One of his 2-year-old fillies, Aztec Hill, won at Saratoga and is expected to run in the Breeders' Cup.