When Laurel oddsmaker Jeff Weissman releases his betting line for the Frank De Francis Dash today, he will make Safely Kept the 7-5 favorite.
He figures the 5-year-old mare will be the choice over last year's sprint champion Housebuster, who has won only one race this year. Weissman puts Housebuster at 8-5.
But bettors looking for value will be studying hard the past performances of Robyn Dancer and Clever Trevor, invaders from the West and Midwest, respectively, who appear to have the best chance to upset the two favorites.
Six horses are expected to be entered for Saturday's $300,000 race. Robyn Dancer and Clever Trevor are listed at 6-1 odds. The field is completed by Sunny Blossom at 10-1 and Bravely Bold at 15-1.
The De Francis Dash is being billed as a match race between the two heavily hyped champions, but it certainly doesn't have to unfold that way.
Darrell Vienna, the California trainer of Robyn Dancer, is following the Wayne Lukas credo: when a horse gets good, put him on a plane and go for the money.
After running seven furlongs in 1:21 in the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park barely three weeks ago, Robyn Dancer hopped a flight with Festin, bound for the New England Classic at Rockingham Park, and arrived at Laurel last night.
It will be a sort of homecoming for both Vienna and the horse.
Vienna is the West Coast Renaissance horseman who won the Budweiser International last fall with Swing Til Dawn. Vienna not only trains horses, but he also goes to law school and is a published poet.
With Swing Til Dawn, he took a mediocre dirt horse, put him on the turf and won a Grade I stakes.
With Robyn Dancer, he took him off the turf, then revived the colt's flagging career by sprinting him on the main track.
Maryland fans have some familiarity with Robyn Dancer. He was unveiled as a 2-year-old at local tracks by trainer Jerry Robb. Robb's principal owner, the late Jack Owens, had plucked the colt out of the Ocala, Fla., 2-year-old-in-training sales. After finishing second in the Laurel Futurity to Go And Go, Owens sold Robyn Dancer to Vienna's clients for a reported $640,000.
The colt then looked like a colossal failure. He failed to win as a 3-year-old. It wasn't until this year at 4 that he re-blossomed. He has won three of his last four starts, and his latest race in the Triple Bend is the most impressive. He won by more than eight lengths in excellent time. He is fresh and he doesn't have to be on the lead.
That could be useful strategy in the De Francis. Bravely Bold and Sunny Blossom are expected to engage Safely Kept early and could soften her up.
That means the race might set up for rapid rallies by Robyn Dancer, Clever Trevor or Housebuster.
Clever Trevor is another relatively fresh horse. He has won both of his 1991 starts in stakes. Along the way the 5-year-old gelding quietly has amassed more than $1 million in earnings. He's still racing when his peers Sunday Silence and Easy Goer have been retired to stud. But he is raced sparingly, after two knee operations.
Like Robyn Dancer, Clever Trevor does not have to be on the lead and can stalk the front-runners.
Apparently Vienna and Donnie Von Hemel, trainer of Clever Trevor, decided now is the time to take on Safely Kept and Housebuster.
A win by either would set him up as a new contender for the sprint title, and make the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs the race to win this fall.