2021 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Contenders & Odds

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Laurel Park Press Release
Updated: September 16, 2021

With two straight wins under his belt including a long-awaited first stakes triumph and returning to a track where he has yet to lose, the timing is ideal for Wondrwherecraigis to step back into graded company in the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) at Laurel Park on Saturday, September 18.

The 30th running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses on a 11-race program that includes the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up, also at six furlongs, and a pair of $100,000 stakes going one mile - the Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and Twixt for females 3 and older.

All four races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series. First race post time is 12:40 p.m.

Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis' illustrious roster of winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster, fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull, and Lite the Fuse, the race's only two-time winner (1995-96) honored with his own stakes race in Maryland.

2021 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Field & Odds

Race 8 at Laurel Park on Saturday, September 18 - Post 4:23 PM

Entry Horse ML Odds Jockey Trainer
1 Kalu 9-2 Victor Carrasco
120 Lbs
J. Sweezey
2 Jalen Journey 7-5 Feargal Lynch
120 Lbs
Steven Asmussen
3 Whiskey and You 30-1 Charlie Marquez
120 Lbs
Roy Peacock, Jr.
4 War Tocsin 12-1 Alexander Crispin
120 Lbs
Uriah St. Lewis
5 Wondrwherecraigis 8-5 Jevian Toledo
120 Lbs
Brittany Russell
6 Laki 6-1 Horacio Karamanos
122 Lbs
Damon Dilodovico

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables' Wondrwherecraigis enters the De Francis off front-running scores, both at six furlongs, in a July optional claiming allowance at historic Pimlico Race Course and the Tale of the Cat Aug. 13 at Saratoga, by 8 ½ combined lengths.

The 4-year-old Munnings gelding has breezed twice since over Laurel's newly reconstructed main track, most recently going a half-mile in 49 seconds Sept. 11. He broke his maiden and won an open allowance last spring to start his career in his previous Laurel races.

"It's a new surface and he's been training right along on it, so hopefully he runs as well as he did before," trainer Brittany Russell said. "I think when a horse like this is doing well, you have to take a shot."

Wondrwherecraigis ran second, beaten a head, in the Gold Fever last June at Belmont Park but was disqualified to third for interference. He made his graded debut running fourth to Yaupon in the Amsterdam (G2) at Saratoga, after which he was given time off. He returned after nearly nine months with a three-length triumph May 14 at Pimlico on the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) undercard.

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"He ran at Saratoga and I brought him back and kept him in training for a little bit," Russell said. "He was just banged up. There was nothing specific. He had no specific injury, but who's to say had we tried to push on that there wouldn't have been.

"He's a completely different animal now than he was a year ago, and that's due to [the owners] letting me kick him out and do the right thing by him," she added. "He's been with us for some time, and he's special to us. He's a really cool horse around the barn. He's quite a character, so the fact that he's gotten so far along in his racing to be thinking about trying to win a graded-stakes with him, that in itself is pretty special."

Wondrwherecraigis was ridden in all four of his local races by Russell's husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury suffered Sept. 9. Jevian Toledo will be aboard from Post 5 in a field of six.

"You're going to run against good horses when you're running in good races," Brittany Russell said. "He's faced good horses and he's been winning the right way. It's not like he just gets the job done. He holds his own the right way."

Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen's Grade 1-placed Jalen Journey will go after his second straight win, eighth overall and first in a stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. North America's all-time win leader, Asmussen owns three sprint stakes wins in Maryland this year - the May 15 Chick Lang (G3) with Mighty Mischief, July 4 Lite the Fuse with Yaupon and Aug. 21 Star de Naskra with Jaxon Traveler.

Third in the 2019 Bing Crosby (G1) and fourth in the Pat O'Brien (G2) prior to being sold and moved to Asmussen, Jalen Journey took a two-race win streak into the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) in March, where he ran 10th behind ill-fated Zenden. The 6-year-old ridgling has won two of his last three starts, the most recent an 8 ½-length romp in a third-level optional claiming allowance Aug. 6 at Saratoga, running 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.67.

"I think he's progressed pretty strongly since we send him to Dubai. He didn't really run all that well over there, whether he didn't handle the trip or what," Bernsen said. "I think it was more because he was training at Oaklawn Park and they had all those snow problems and it really threw our schedule off for Dubai. They had to cancel the prep race that we had and then they had to walk the horses around the barn for 11 days so it really set him back. I think he was really short going into Dubai.

"Since he got back from there, he's really settled in well. His last race at Saratoga was a really, really big run. It was very impressive in a really, really fast time," he added. "Sometimes these horses just get good. He ships around pretty easily. I would expect him to put in a pretty respectable run."

Asmussen, winner of the 2018 De Francis and Maryland Sprint (G3) with Switzerland, enlisted Feargal Lynch to ride from Post 2.

"If he repeats what he did in the last race, that would sort of validate who he is," Bernsen said. "This is a really solid racehorse."

Hillside Equestrian Meadows' multiple stakes winner Laki is entered to defend his victory in the 2020 De Francis, held last fall on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico when the stakes schedule was reshuffled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 8-year-old Maryland-bred gelding rallied to take last year's De Francis by a nose, the first graded triumph for both him and trainer Damon Dilodovico, who also won the De Francis when it was ungraded with Immortal Eyes in 2013.

"That was incredible. My first graded race. You'd like to think you don't count those things but you start to wonder if you'll ever get one," Dilodovico said. "Two years ago, I thought he'd win a number of them. It's just the way things go. He knocked it out, and it was an exciting race to boot. It was a big day."

Laki is 11-for-37 lifetime, including 8-for-23 at Laurel, with $831,162 in purse earnings and at least one stakes win five straight years, a streak he extended in the Frank Y. Whiteley going six furlongs April 24 at Pimlico. Subsequently fifth in the Maryland Sprint (G3), most recently he ran seventh in the Chesapeake Aug. 23 at speed-favoring Colonial Downs.

"He runs against quality horses every go. We were a little disappointed last time at Colonial. His style, it's not going to be too successful on a track like that but you never know," Dilodovico said. "He's been training well this year. I don't really feel like he doesn't show up. They all get beat. He tends to circle back every fourth start or so and really launches a good number. Hopefully he's sitting on one for this."

Regular rider Horacio Karamanos gets the call from outside Post 6 at topweight of 124 pounds, four more than each of his rivals.

Kalu (RyZan Sun Racing) takes a three-race win streak into the De Francis, his stakes debut. The Godolphin-bred, 5-year-old gelded son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper has won by an average of more than 3 ½ lengths during that stretch, all at six furlongs, a distance where he is 7-for-17 lifetime.

"[The owners], they're super game. They just want to have some fun. We figured this was a horse that we could win some races with and hopefully show up on a big day," trainer Kent Sweezey said. "He's a fun horse to have. He's very easy, he's laid back, he ships well and he travels good. This will be hopefully a good spot for him."

Sweeney first claimed Kalu for $8,000 in April 2020 before losing him two months later for $6,250. He was claimed again for the same price last August before rejoining Sweezey over the winter and finishing first or second in eight of his next 11 starts.

"I was thinking just the starter [races] would fit him for the next couple years and then his numbers started coming up real good and I said, `Lets think about something cool,'" Sweezey said. "Growing up I watched stallions win this race. When you go back and look at the stallion register, there are stallions that have won this race. In years past there have been some really good horses come out of it, not to mention just the history behind Maryland racing and all that. It would be an honor to win a race like that."

Victor Carrasco will ride Kalu from Post 1.

War Tocsin (Trin-Brook Stables, Inc.) was second to Wondrwherecraigis July 18 at Pimlico. The 5-year-old gelding has been off the board in both of his stakes tries this year, the May 15 Maryland Sprint and seven-furlong Russell Road Aug. 27 at Charles Town.

Terry Overmier's Whiskey and You also exits the July 18 race, where he was fourth, between a fourth to Yaupon in the Lite the Fuse and fifth to Mucho in the July 31 Challedon at Pimlico, his most recent race. All four of his career wins have come at Laurel including back to back March 21 and April 10.

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Pre-Draw News

Jalen Journey Headed to Laurel Park for G3 De Francis Dash

A three-furlong blowout Sunday morning put the finishing touches on Grade 1-placed Jalen Journey's preparations for the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) on Saturday, September 18 at Laurel Park.

Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen's 6-year-old Jalen Journey completed the distance in 38.17 seconds over Belmont Park's training track, his fourth work since an 8 1/2-furlong blowout victory sprinting 6 ½ furlongs August 6 at Saratoga.

"The key now will be to see if he can repeat that race in the De Francis. That's what we're sort of looking for," Bernsen said. "Then if he does that, we'll probably look at the Breeders' Cup [Sprint November 6 at Del Mar]."

The six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses joined by the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up, also at six furlongs and a pair of $100,000 stakes going one mile, the Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and Twixt for females 3 and older.

All four races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis' illustrious roster of winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster, fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull, and Lite the Fuse, the race's only two-time winner (1995-96) honored with his own stakes race in Maryland.

Jalen Journey is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, North America's all-time leader in wins who already has three sprint stakes victories in Maryland this year - the May 15 Chick Lang (G3) with Mighty Mischief, July 4 Lite the Fuse with Yaupon and Aug. 21 Star de Naskra with Jaxon Traveler.

Asmussen won the De Francis and Maryland Sprint (G3) in 2018 with Switzerland. The trainer's other local graded sprint stakes wins in recent years have come with Yaupon in the 2020 Chick Lang, Wicked Whisper in the 2020 Miss Preakness (G3), New York Central in the 2019 Maryland Sprint and Vertical Oak in the 2017 Miss Preakness.

In 2018 Asmussen won the then-ungraded Chick Lang with Mitole, who would go on to be named the champion sprinter of 2019.

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Asmussen nominated four horses to the De Francis, but Jalen Journey is the only one expected to run. The others are Jaxon Traveler and Grade 1 winners Yaupon and Jackie's Warrior.

"Whatever Steve does with them seems to work," Bernsen said. "Asmussen sort of has them surrounded in the sprint ranks."

Prior to joining Asmussen, Jalen Journey was third in the Bing Crosby (G1) and fourth in the Pat O'Brien (G2) in the summer of 2019 after being purchased by Rockingham's Gary Hartunian for $510,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Horses of Racing Age sale that July following a runner-up finish in the Smile Sprint (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

Among the top horses Bernsen has owned with Rockingham are two-time sprint champion Roy H, a 10-time winner of more than $3.1 million in purses including back-to-back editions of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in 2017 and 2018; and fellow multi-millionaire Stormy Liberal, the champion turf male of 2018 who counted the 2017 and 2018 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) among his 12 lifetime victories.

CEO of GWG Group LLC, a global computer wagering business based in California, Bernsen plans to be on hand for the De Francis.

"I was just looking at my schedule. I've never been to Laurel," he said. "I was talking to Aidan Butler [COO of Laurel Park owner 1/ST Racing] earlier in the week and thought that it might be a good one to come out and see."

Grade 3 De Francis Next Stop for Wondrwherecraigis

It's on to the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) for newly minted stakes winner Wondrwherecraigis, who tuned up for his return to graded competition with an easy half-mile breeze Saturday morning at Laurel Park.

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables' 4-year-old gelding Wondrwherecraigis went four furlongs in 49 seconds over Laurel's main track, which underwent a multi-million dollar reconstruction over the summer.

It was the second work for Wondrwherecraigis since earning his first career stakes victory Aug. 13 in the Tale of the Cat at Saratoga. He also breezed a half-mile in 49.20 seconds Sept. 3.

"That's all we wanted," trainer Brittany Russell said of Saturday's work. "He's great. He's in good form. He's happy and he's training well. We have a lot going on at the moment, but it looks like we're going to move forward to next week."

The six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses Saturday, Sept. 18 at Laurel, which launched its calendar year-ending fall meet Thursday. Joining the De Francis are the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting six furlongs and a pair of $100,000 stakes going one mile, the Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and Twixt for females 3 and older.

All four races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis' illustrious roster of winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster, fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull, and Lite the Fuse, the race's only two-time winner (1995-96) honored with his own stakes race in Maryland.

Wondrwherecraigis has won each of his last two starts, both in front-running fashion. Saratoga meet champion Luis Saez was aboard in the six-furlong Tale of the Cat, beating fellow De Francis nominee My Boy Tate by 2 ¾ lengths in 1:10.09. He was a popular 5 ¾-length winner of a July 18 optional claiming allowance at Pimlico under Russell's husband, jockey Sheldon Russell.

The connections will need a new rider as Sheldon Russell suffered a broken foot after being thrown from his horse during the post parade of Thursday's opening day finale at Laurel and will be out indefinitely.

Other jockeys to have ridden Wondrwherecraigis include Jose Lezcano and Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, the latter in the 2020 Amsterdam (G2) last August where they ran fourth in the Munnings gelding's only previous graded-stakes attempt.

Jackie's Warrior & Laki Headline G3 De Francis Memorial Nominations

Defending champion Laki and Grade 1 winners Jackie's Warrior and Yaupon are among 25 accomplished older sprinters nominated to the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) Saturday, Sept. 18 at Laurel Park.

The 30th running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses, joined by the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up, also at six furlongs; $100,000 Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Twixt for females 3 and older, both going one mile.

Honoring the late owner of Laurel Park and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis' distinguished roster of past winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster and fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull.

Hillside Equestrian Meadows' 8-year-old gelding Laki rallied to capture last year's De Francis by a nose over Eastern Bay for his first graded-stakes triumph. Trained by Damon Dilodovico, who also won an ungraded De Francis with Immortal Eyes in 2013, Laki has lost four starts since extending his streak to five straight years with a stakes victory in the April 24 Frank Whiteley at Laurel.

Jackie's Warrior and Yaupon both exit Grade 1 triumphs on the Aug. 28 card at Saratoga for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, North America's all-time leading trainer by wins that has a total of four De Francis nominees. J. Kirk and Judy Robison's Jackie's Warrior captured the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens by a neck one race after Yaupon edged fellow Grade 1 winner and De Francis nominee Firenze Fire in the seven-furlong Forego.

While Jackie's Warrior has never raced in the state, Yaupon is 2-0 in Maryland having won the 2020 Chick Lang (G3) and July 4 Lite the Fuse, both at Pimlico. Asmussen also nominated West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner's Jaxon Traveler, a four-time winner in Maryland including the Star de Naskra last out Aug. 21 at Pimlico, and Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen's Grade 1-placed Jalen Journey.

Since winning the six-furlong Tom Fool (G3) March 6 at Aqueduct, Michael Dubb's Chateau has run fourth in the Carter (G1), second in the Runhappy (G3) at Belmont Park and most recently third behind Yaupon and Laki in the Lite the Fuse. The 6-year-old gelding is based in New York with trainer Rob Atras.

Multiple stakes winners nominated to the De Francis include Florida-based Double Crown, second to Yaupon in the Chick Lang; Francatelli, third by a head in the Aug. 31 Parx Dash (G3); Just Might, Grade 2 placed on turf and a stakes winner on grass and dirt riding a three-race win streak; My Boy Tate, Threes Over Deuces and Whereshetoldmetogo. Wondrwherecraigis was a front-running winner of the six-furlong Tale of the Cat Aug. 13 at Saratoga for trainer Brittany Russell.

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