THE RUSSIANS are here and they're for real.
Vitaly Tanishin set a world record for an aged trotting stallion of 1:57 4/5 on a half-mile track with Lakewater Glory as the four Soviet drivers in the International Series dominated their Northfield Park counterparts, 81-60, Friday night in a $10,000 feature at the Cleveland track.
Tanishin won two races at Northfield and countryman Igor Larionov was second in both races, while Northfield champion Joe Adamsky won the other race in the series.
Now a Buffalo Raceway group of reinsmen -- Patsy C. Rapone, Ed McNeight Jr., Clint Galbraith and Dave Vance -- has its work cut out for it when it meets the Soviets as the series continues Saturday night at the Hamburg track.
The Soviet reinsmen, who boast a combined 3,000 victories and two dozen International driving championships (Sweden, Finland, Hungary, West Germany among them), are visiting eight U.S. and Canadian tracks during a three-week tour of North America.
Shepherding the contingent is Kazbek Dzalaev, director of the Moscow Hippodrome and president of the Horse Breeding Congress of the Socialist Countries, acknowledged as the most powerful man in Eastern Bloc racing.
Tanishin, at 50, is the oldest of the Soviet stars. The four-time USSR driving king is the highest-paid reinsmen in a country where the average purse earning of a driver is about 500 rubles ($210) a month. Tanishin and his traveling companions earn considerably more than the average.
Andrei Lipatnikov and Valeri Vinnitsky are the other Soviet drivers in the series.
Purses at the Moscow Hippodrome go as high as $30,000 (U.S.). Drivers keep 35 percent of their racing winnings, 30 percent goes to the horse's lead caretaker, while another 30 percent is divided among the three assistant grooms.
The horse owner gets the remaining five percent.
The owner does not seem to mind getting the short end, because the owner is the Soviet government.
The government owns all the horses, as well as 60 to 70 race tracks.
The Hippodrome is 150 years old and seats about 13,000. Racing is conducted year-around over a 1,600-meter course. And there is no OTB in Russia.
Kittiwake, owned by former National Hockey League defenseman Pete Scamurra of Amherst, won a $10,000 pace at Freestate (Md.) in 1:54 3/5 , which was a track record and only two-fifths of a second off the world record for aged pacing mares. Joe Pavia Jr. drove the mare. . . . Delevan's Bill Fahy drove Jaguar Spur to victory in 1:52 1/5 in the $152,000 final of the Graduate Series at the Meadowlands, giving "Jaguar" a 3-2 lead in head-to-head confrontations with Matt's Scooter. Also at the Meadowlands, another millionaire purse-earner, Camtastic, won in 1:52 1/5 in a $40,000 invitational. The trio will be meeting soon. . . . At Monticello, New Legend, trained by Dick Wilcox and driven by Bert Lindstedt, was second in a 2:03 mile in a $54,000 division of the New York Sire Stakes trot for 3-year-old colts. The colt is owned by the New Legend Stable, which is managed by East Aurora's Pat Menchi. . . . Tickets for the June 7 "Race Against MS" benefit dinner at Buffalo Raceway are available by calling co-chairmen Menchi (655-1406) or Bob Dawson (896-1131), or Art Cardella at the MS office (875-7710). . . . A $27,000 giveaway promotion highlights the kickoff of Flamboro Downs' five-nights-a-week summer meet, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dundas, Ont.