Sprint Tops Seven Stakes Worth $900,000 on Fall Festival of Racing Program LAUREL, MD – David Gruskos’ multiple stakes winner Chublicious, dismissed as the longest shot in the four-horse field, collared stubborn front-runner Blue Moon Ace in mid-stretch and emerged from their duel to the wire with a neck victory in the $250,000 Xpressbet Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) Saturday at Laurel Park.
The 26th running of the six-furlong De Francis for sprinters 3 and up was the highlight of a 12-race Fall Festival of Racing program that featured seven stakes, six stakes over Laurel’s world-class turf course, worth $900,000 in purses.
Chublicious ($22.40) ran the distance in 1:08.75 over a fast main track to edge Blue Moon Ace, with multiple Grade 3 winner Whitmore, the 1-2 favorite, 1 ½ lengths back in third, four lengths in front of another multiple graded stakes winner, Awesome Banner.
Named for the late president and chairman of Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis was moved up this year from its mid-November spot on the Maryland racing calendar. Past winners of the prestigious sprint include Hall of Famer Housebuster and fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull.
It marked the first graded win for Chublicious, the New Jersey-bred champion sprinter and older male of 2016. As he has done in each of the previous three years, Gruskos moved the 6-year-old gelding to the barn of Laurel-based trainer Claudio Gonzalez this week for his annual fall and winter campaign.
“I was planning on using this race with Claudio for a while. This is nothing new,” Gruskos said. “The horse runs 1:08. The horse has been running 1:08s and threes on the sheets for two years. This is no mystery.
“I told the jockey, ‘The horse breaks clean, lays off the speed and then makes a big run into the turn and keeps on going,” he added. “That’s exactly what he did.”
Blu Moon Ace, coming off a gate-to-wire triumph in the Coalition Aug. 26 at Timonium, was rushed up to the lead by jockey Gerald Almodovar and went the first quarter-mile in 22.65 seconds and a half in 45.31, with Awesome Banner second on the rail. Horacio Karamanos had Chublicious in the clear three wide while Whitmore was fourth to his inside.
Chublicious moved another path wider after straightening for home and close determinedly on the outside of Blu Moon Ace to get up near the wire for his fifth career stakes win and second in open company. It was the second De Francis win for Karamanos, following Action Andy’s 10-1 upset in 2012.
“I broke good out of the gate and had outside position. He tried to go on the lead but I didn’t want to let him go so I sat behind the speed,” Karamanos said. “I know [Awesome Banner] and [Blu Moon Ace] had to go and I waited for [Whitmore] because he’s the big favorite in the race.
“I paid attention to the horse on the lead. I know [Awesome Banner] after the three-eighths pole he had no more gas to go,” he added. “I followed [Blu Moon Ace] but I waited for [Whitmore], too, to see what happens. At the top of the stretch I let my horse switch leads and said, ‘Give me whatever you have.’ [Blu Moon Ace] was getting tired a little bit and coming over on me but my horse was coming with very good action and we passed him.”
Whitmore, winner of the six-furlong Maryland Sprint (G3) May 20 at historic Pimlico Race Course, was racing for the first time since finishing third as the favorite in the True North (G2) June 9 at Belmont Park. It was his second straight loss after putting together a five-race win streak when returned to sprinting following his 19th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Jockey Feargal Lynch settled Whitmore in behind horses and tried to come up the inside when Awesome Banner drifted off the rail turning for home, but the Pleasantly Perfect gelding never mounted a challenge.
“It was just kind of a trappy race. They jump and everyone is watching what I’m doing,” Lynch said. “I’m just tracking the horses and the gap came on the inside and I had to take it. I wasn’t going to ride four horses wide. When we straightened up at the quarter pole the pace quickened and he didn’t.
“He likes to stalk the pace and in a four-horse race there’s not a whole lot you can do,” he added. “There was no kick, no acceleration, so back to the drawing board.”