LAUREL, MD. 11-12-14---Ten sprinters have been entered in Saturdayâ€™s 23rd running of the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, including local star Benâ€™s Cat.
Introduced in 1990, the De Francis Dash is one of the elite 6-furlong sprints in the country with four of the 22 winners-Housebuster (1991), Cherokee Run (1994), Smoke Glacken (1997) and Thorâ€™s Echo (2006)-earning Eclipse Award honors for champion sprinter.
The Fall Festival of Racing card also features five $100,000 stakes races. Total purses for the nine-race program are $981,000 making it the fourth biggest on the Maryland racing calendar this year, trailing only the Preakness ($2.85 million), Black-Eyed Susan ($1.6 million) and Maryland Million ($1 million) cards.
Although he is famous for being one of the top turf sprinters in the country, Benâ€™s Cat (8-1) is no slouch on the main track with 10 victories in 14 tries, including five stakes wins, and is 6-for-7 at the De Francis distance. Overall, the King Leatherbury homebred is 27-of-44 lifetime for earnings of $2,200,990.
â€œI was reluctant to enter and am not sure we will run because there are some really tough horses in here,â€ Leatherbury said. â€œI have the option of running him in the Fabulous Strike at Penn National in a couple weeks. He has done some good things on the dirt but there are too many good horses in here who are faster. The race came up really tough and it is supposed to. There are only so many big races for sprinters.â€
Maryland Jockey Club handicapper Keith Feustle made the 8-year-old an 8-1 shot on the morning line.
Julian Pimentel is named to ride Benâ€™s Cat and Dads Caps, the 5-2 morning line favorite.
Dads Caps won the Carter Handicap (G1) in April and has runner-up finishes in three graded races this year-the Toboggan (G3), the Tom Fool (G3) and the Vosburgh Invitational (G1) for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
â€œHe looks like he is coming into the race in good shape,â€ Rodriguez said. â€œWe were hoping to space him out a little bit after Saratoga (second place finish in the Troy Stakes) but we gave him a shot and he ran well in the Vosburgh. Since we got him he hasnâ€™t done much wrong. Every time we run him, he shows up. There is a lot of speed in this race. I am going to let Julian decide what to do and get him in a good spot. Hopefully heâ€™ll be good enough.â€
Happy My Way (7-2) has finished first or second in five of six races this year, including a score in the Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3) at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard. Before an off the board finish in the Vosburgh Invitational (G1) in his last start, the Joe Orseno trainee had produced five straight triple digit Beyer Speed figures. Joe Bravo will ride the son of Wilko for the seventh straight race.
â€œI think you can draw a line through the Vosburgh,â€ Orseno said. â€œHe is coming into this race in great shape and we are looking forward to it. We have had this on our schedule for a long time. I tried to get him to do other things earlier in his career because of his pedigree but this year I decided to make him a sprinter and he has responded. He got really good for us.â€
Bern Identity (9-2) won three stakes races during a 35-day period this summer for trainer Kelly Breen, including the Daveâ€™s Friend Stakes at Laurel on September 6, before placing third in the Phoenix Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last month.
Favorite Tale (6-1) has won 5-of-10 races during his 3-year-old campaign, including the Gallant Bob Stakes (G3) at Parx in September when the Guadalupe Preciado trainee ran a career-best 104 Beyer Speed figure. John Bisono will ride the son of Tale of the Cat, who has earned the respect of rival trainers.
â€œFavorite Tale is a young horse who is coming into his own and might be ready to run a big race,â€ Leatherbury said.
â€œI think he could have been made the favorite off his last performance,â€ Orseno added.
Mico Margarita (6-1) will be making his 10th start of the season at eight different tracks in eight different states. The well-traveled son of Run Away and Hide has three stakes victories in 2014 for Steve Asmussen and was a graded stakes winner a year ago. Ricardo Santana has the call. La Verdad (12-1) has six stakes victories in 10 starts this year, including the Distaff Handicap (G2) in April, and finished second in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap (G2) at Laurel in February. Jose Ortiz will be aboard the Linda Rice trainee for the 15th time in 16 starts.
D. Wayne Lukas is sending Zee Bros (15-1) from his Churchill Downs base. The son of Brother Derek comes into the race off an allowance score at Keeneland after a pair of off the board finishes in graded races. Alex Cintron has the riding assignment. Zee Bros won the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico in 2013 with a career-best 103 Beyer.
Trainer Damon Dilodovico, who won the 2013 De Francis Dash with Immortal Eyes, will saddle Smash and Grab (20-1). The son of Sharp Humor has won two consecutive allowance races at Laurel Park during the current fall stand. Jevian Toledo retains the mount.
â€œHe seems to love the distance,â€ Dilodovico said. â€œWe have had him for only four races and the thing we have noticed is he didnâ€™t like running at night. His behavior under the lights at Charles Town was not good so we decided to keep him in the daylight and at 6-furlongs. I love the outside post. We donâ€™t have to have a definite strategy but there will be plenty of pace and weâ€™ll try to pick up a piece. We know he has to step up to another level and I am a little nervous about coming back in two weeks but he came out of the last two starts in great shape and we are going to take a shot.â€
Heavenâ€™s Runway (30-1) has one victory in eight races this year. The 4-year-old colt finished fourth in the Laurel Dash in his most recent start.
$350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (8th Race)
Here is a capsule of the other stakes on Saturdayâ€™s program. A more detailed advance on the Fall Festival of Racing undercard will be produced Thursday:
$100,000 Smart Halo Stakes (1st race) Overprepared, who broke his maiden in his debut last month for the powerful Todd Pletcher barn, will meet six other 2-year-old fillies, including E Dubaiâ€™s Humor and Morning Tale, a pair of 2-for-2 runners.
$100,000 James Lewis Stakes (3rd race) Thirteen 2-year-olds are entered, including stakes winners Cinco Charlie and Golden Years.
$100,000 City Of Laurel Stakes (4th race) Graded winner In Trouble tops a full field of fourteen 3-year-olds.
$100,000 Safely Kept Stakes (5th race) Sixteen 3-year-old fillies are entered (14 can run), including Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) runner-up Vero Amore and stakes winner Stormy Novel, who was second in the Miss Preakness Stakes.
$100,000 Richard Small Stakes (6th race) Eight stakes winners are among the thirteen runners entered.