LAUREL -- Upsets have been the norm in big sprint races in recent years. So when six horses passed the Laurel Race Course entry box for tomorrow's $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, horseplayers immediately began looking for a logical long shot.
After all, the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint has been a bewildering annual exercise. Beginning in 1986, the past five winners of the nation's richest sprint went off at odds of 11-1, 16-1, 6-1, 16-1 and 12-1.
And tomorrow, four horses will be trying to perpetuate the element of surprise begun last year in the De Francis Dash by Northern Wolf.
Northern Wolf paid $15 after surging to a track record in the inaugural De Francis Dash, at Pimlico Race Course. One of his beaten rivals was Safely Kept, who drew post No. 5 yesterday and is expected to be the favorite in tomorrow's second running at Laurel.
Since Housebuster (No. 2) figures to be a close second choice and does not qualify as a potential upsetter, the four others entered yesterday for the six-furlong event have assumed sleeper roles.
Clever Trevor (No. 4) is hardly a sleeper in Oklahoma, where he has become a local hero. The 5-year-old gelding has amassed more than $1.2 million in earnings while winning 14 of 22 starts. But he is a relative unknown nationally, and as a sprinter, his abilities are even more unclear.
When Clever Trevor was younger, he showed excellent speed, as most good horses do. But with the Kentucky Derby as a goal, trainer Donnie Von Hemel had him running longer distances early in his 3-year-old year.
Because longer races generally offer more lucrative purses, Von Hemel never made a conscious effort to turn Clever Trevor into a sprinter. But this year, after returning from knee surgery for the second straight year, Clever Trevor is 2-for-2 sprinting -- and Von Hemel said he has a notion to keep Clever Trevor in shorter races as long as he keeps producing victories.
"After this race, we'll decide what route to take," Von Hemel said when asked whether he will point to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which will be run Nov. 2.
"For a horse to hold his class like he has after two surgeries is something you'll rarely see. It's a credit to his tremendous class."
The others ready to go are Bravely Bold (No. 1), Sunny Blossom (No. 3) and Robyn Dancer (No. 6).
Clever Trevor and Robyn Dancer figure close in the wagering behind the two favorites. Sunny Blossom, second in his last outing when making his first start for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, is the likely fifth choice, and Bravely Bold is the probable longest shot.
NOTES: Clever Trevor finished 13th in the 1989 Kentucky Derby, easily his worst career effort. . . . Housebuster's trainer, W.A. "Jimmy" Croll, said the colt is rateable enough to resist getting into a ruinous speed duel tomorrow. "He's done it many times," said Croll. . . . Laurel VP Jim Mango said yesterday that the track is "an inch away" from changing the Double Triple format as a marketing ploy for August. The minimum wager would be raised to $5, coinciding with a $100,000 jackpot guarantee. . . . Just 5 starters were entered yesterday at Rockingham Park for tomorrow's $500,000 New England Classic, seventh race in the American Championship Racing Series. In post position order, they are Sunny Serve, Whiz Along, Silver Survivor, Festin and Marquetry. Edgar Prado will travel from Maryland to ride Silver Survivor. . . . Crowned and Valay Maid, both trained by Ben Perkins Jr., have been assigned high weight of 118 pounds each for Sunday's Davona Dale Handicap at Laurel. . . . Weekend simulcasts to Laurel/Pimlico: The New England Classic tomorrow, and the Sunset Handicap and Caesar's International on Sunday. . . . Calixto Juarez is riding at Laurel as a journeyman, his apprenticeship having expired Wednesday.