The Turf Festival at Laurel Race Course ended yesterday the same way it began a week ago -- the winning jockeys were more international than the horses.
Jean Cruguet, the 54-year-old Frenchman, and Peruvian-born Edgar Prado, completed Festival doubles yesterday on two horses that originally had been entered in New York stakes, but were scratched and ran here.
Cruguet, who won the Washington D.C. International with Buckhar on Saturday, rallied from off the pace with Rokeby Stable's Home of the Free and defeated Canadian invader Strike A Gold Mine in the $200,000 Laurel Dash.
In the co-featured Laurel Turf Cup, Prado, the leading Maryland jockey for the past three years and winner of the Selima Stakes last weekend with Irish Forever, slowed the pace down to a walk and led wire-to-wire with Edwin Wachtel's Square Cut, trained locally by Joe Devereux.
Prado's skills confused the strategy of at least one jockey, Corey Nakatani from California, whose ride aboard second choice Stark South provoked an outburst from losing trainer John Russell. Stark South finished fourth. Favored George Augustus was also a victim of the slow pace and ended up third behind runner-up Weesam.
Russell accused Nakatani of "drastically" misjudging the pace.
"I was amazed when he held back. . . He was choking him. I'm aggravated about the way he rode the horse," Russell said. "You can't gallop this horse that slow."
The time for the 12-furlong turf race was a sluggish 2 minutes, 32 2/5 seconds.
It was the second time during the Turf Festival that a jockey's ride became an issue.
The Laurel stewards yesterday suspended Pat Valenzuela seven days for interfering with Larry Reynolds on Maryland Moon in the stretch run of the International Mile. Valenzuela had finished second on Cleone, but was disqualified and placed third behind Maryland Moon.
Home of the Free, a stablemate of Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, was scheduled to run last Saturday in the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park. But Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller opted to send him to Laurel for the Dash.
Miller, recovering from gall-bladder surgery in Kentucky, missed the race, but his assistant, Danny Furr, said Cruguet picked up the mount when Rokeby's regular jockey, Jerry Bailey, rode instead yesterday in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
"He's a good soft turf rider," Furr said about Cruguet. The horse was fractious at the gate and needed to be blind-folded to be loaded, "a first" Furr said.
The horse stalked pace-setter Tsunami Spangler, then drove by him at about the eighth pole under strong whipping from Cruguet.
The race was marred somewhat when the French filly, Myza, failed to break well and trailed the field during the early running. She managed to beat one horse, Central City, a European filly who competed in the Dash last year, stayed in this country, but never has acclimated well and will be retired.
Myza now joins the stable of Roger Attfield and leaves tomorrow with that trainer's Laurel string to winter at Payson Park in Indiantown, Fla.
Square Cut had been entered in the Tidal Handicap at Belmont Park last Monday, but after a day of debate, owner Ed Wachtel decided on the Turf Cup.
"Because this horse is a front-runner, the key factor is how much other speed there is in the race," Wachtel said. "There seemed to be more speed in the Tidal. The track was softer there, and as it turned out, two of the favorites in that race were eased. We were blessed today with a great ride, and, of course, Joe [Devereux] did a wonderful job training the horse."
Attendance for both days of this year's Turf Festival showed a decline of about 4,000 fans from 1992, but the state's three off-track betting sites were not in operation last year and do not record attendance figures.
Business at the betting windows improved. There was about a $400,000 increase yesterday in addition to an increase of about $100,000 on in-state betting on Saturday.
But, for the second straight year, business generated at the Turf Festival fell behind the Maryland Million.
Track operator Joe De Francis said "at first blush, the Turf Festival was neither off the charts, but it wasn't a terrible failure, either. All things considered, such as the Air France strike which kept some of the European horses from getting here, it turned out OK. It doesn't make sense to have an International Turf Festival with only three foreign runners.
"What we do next with it will require some in-depth analysis. One thing I was definitely pleased about, though, was the execution of the Horse Fair. Phoebe Hayes [director] did an outstanding job. It was professionally organized and the events were good quality."
Vendors, at the trade show, however, complained of light attendance and were disappointed in weekend sales.
NOTES: De Francis and track executive vice president and general counsel Martin Jacobs missed yesterday's races. Both attended the wedding of Jacobs' daughter, Shoshanna. . . . Finder's Choice, who finished sixth in the International Mile, has been retired for a second time. Last year, the 8-year-old horse was sent to stud, but wasn't interested in his new career. So he was returned to the races. Now he goes to Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City "and we're hoping he takes an interest in mares this time," said his owner, Stuart Janney III.