05/06/2004 11:00PM

Patching things up at Longchamp

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NEW YORK - The Gary Stevens Breeches Affair, or the Incident at Longchamp Concerning the State of Affairs Between the United States and France, had a happy ending last week, but the resolution was not forthcoming until a few pulse beats had been raised well above normal.

In an amicable gesture of entente cordiale between his native land, America, and his temporary domicile, France, Stevens had been wearing both American and French flag decals on his riding pants. On one hip up near his waist he wore the Stars and Stripes; on the other, the Tricolore.

Anyone who took grammar school geography would have no trouble recognizing or distinguishing between the two. The big difference between them is that one is red, white, and blue, the other blue, white, and red. Vive la difference! Apparently no one in authority in French racing noticed either of them through the first five weeks of Stevens's lucrative sojourn with Andre Fabre, perennially the leading French trainer. If they did notice, officials must have cast a Gallic shrug at both sides of Stevens's derriere.

But last Sunday, the American's friendly displays set the bombs bursting in air. The clerk of the scales at Longchamp took note of the flags and told Gary, "Non, monsieur! They are against the rules!"

Given the current testiness between the modern world's first two great democratic republics, the clerk's abrupt order was not well received, especially as Stevens was preoccupied with the racing at hand. Gary briefly threatened to leave France altogether, but after a phone call from France-Galop president Edouard, Baron de Rothschild, apologizing for the clerk's rudeness while at the same time explaining that the rules of French racing did indeed prohibit such exhibitions, calm was restored.

Yet, in banning Stevens's display of amity between the two countries that gave the world Coca-Cola and Chateau-Laffitte, France-Galop, one cannot help but feel, has treated Stevens harshly. Throughout his 19 years in France, Cash Asmussen always wore a dollar sign on the back of his breeches. And Olivier Peslier continues to wear a butterfly insignia on his collar. So why can't Stevens wear his flag patches?

Elusive Quality a secret no longer

Smarty Jones's decisive victory in the Kentucky Derby may blow the cover of his sire, Elusive Quality. Until now, the Gone West stallion has hardly been receiving the attentions of racing's grande dames, but that shouldn't be the case much longer.

Elusive Quality caused a stir in England with his first crop two years ago when Elusive City, out of the unraced Dayjur mare Star of Paris, won the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville.

On the day after Smarty's Derby heroics, the Elusive Quality filly Elusive Diva took the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes at Hollywood. She is from the nondescript mare Taj Aire, herself by the obscure, unraced Seattle Slew stallion Taj Alriyadh.

Smarty Jones himself is out of the Smile mare I'll Get Along, whose best victory came in a $35,000 allowance at Delaware Park. A half-sister to two-time Grade 3 sprint winner Cowboy Cop, her only other foal to race is Be Happy My Love, a maiden winner in eight starts.

Standing for $30,000 at Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud in Versailles, Ky., Elusive Quality has sired two other American Grade 3 winners in Chimichurri and Omega Code. With an American classic winner and a French Group 1 winner to his credit, he should soon begin to receive visits from more highly regarded mares, especially those owned by the Maktoums. When that happens, more of his offspring will wind up overseas.

Elusive Quality looked like a champion in his runaway Grade 3 turf triumphs in the Poker and Jaipur handicaps. Unbeatable when allowed to get away on the lead, he usually folded like an accordion when challenged early. European and Arab breeders and owners who admire his ability on turf will now be shelling out big bucks for his progeny.

Not to sound a discouraging note, but to set the record straight, let's debunk the idea that Elusive Quality is the world record holder at a mile. His 1:31.63 clocking when winning the Poker is not the fastest mile ever. That distinction belongs to Mystic Ridge, who on May 27, 1999, sped a mile in 1:30.50 at Brighton Racecourse in the south of England.

Well, to be precise, the distance of that race was 7 furlongs, 214 yards, and it is mostly downhill, but so what? Races at Brighton are timed from a standing start, as are all races in Britain, while one-mile races on Belmont's Widener Turf Course are timed from a running start with the gate at least 20 yards behind the mile pole.

Which is to say that there is no point in trumpeting the elusive ideal of a world record. With as many different types of tracks, surfaces, ways of measuring races, and means of timing as there are around the globe, world records are the provenance of racing's equivalent to the Flat Earth Society.