Seven have speed to burn in $300,000 De Francis 'Monster' is 2-1 favorite

Lite The Fuse returns

July 20, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

If the Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports, the most exciting minute and eight seconds might be today's Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.

Seven electrifying speedballs -- some with dazzling early foot, others with heart-thumping late speed -- clash in the six-furlong, $300,000, Grade II race that could serve as a prep for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint this fall at Woodbine.

The seven-horse De Francis field is so stacked that the country's champion sprinter, Not Surprising, is fifth in the morning line at 6-1. Created in memory of Frank J. De Francis, who was credited with reviving Maryland horse racing in the 1980s, the race is the nation's richest sprint of the summer.

Last year's winner, Lite The Fuse, returns to defend his title. Ridden by Julie Krone and trained by former Marylander Dick Dutrow, the 5-year-old finished third as the odds-on favorite in Belmont Park's Tom Fool Handicap just 13 days ago.

Racing the horse again so soon concerns Dutrow, a Hagerstown native who trained in Maryland from 1966 to 1984 before venturing to New York. He said he decided to run Lite The Fuse, who usually races about once a month, because he plans on giving him a six-week vacation afterward.

Asked which of the competitors he fears most, Dutrow said: "I don't fear those horses as much as I fear the 13 days."

Nevertheless, those horses offer plenty to fear.

Top-weighted at 119 pounds and the morning-line favorite at 2-1, Meadow Monster has won five of six stakes starts this year -- three at Gulfstream Park and two at Laurel. Like Lite The Fuse, this 5-year-old ridden by Edgar Prado probably will stalk the early leaders, waiting to pounce.

Those likely leaders are Prospect Bay and Lord Carson. John C. Kimmel trains Prospect Bay, a 4-year-old colt with only five starts (three wins and two seconds), but eye-popping speed out of the gate. Mike Smith flies in for the ride.

"He doesn't have to go that fast early," Kimmel said. "If things break right, the jockey knows he can take this horse back. He's got a nice post position [No. 6], and he doesn't have to go for the lead."

That might clear the path for Lord Carson, trained by D. Wayne dTC Lukas and ridden by Donna Barton, or even Heroic Pursuit, a hotshot allowance horse from Jersey breaking from the No. 1 post.

And what about Not Surprising, last year's Eclipse Award-winning sprinter? The 6-year-old gelding has earned more money, $1,047,873, than any other horse in the race. He won eight of 13 races last year and three of seven this year.

But he finished ninth in April's Grade I Carter Handicap, won by Lite The Fuse, and a disappointing third as the favorite in his last start, July 4, a Breeders' Cup sprint at Finger Lakes.

Score Quick ships in from California for trainer Mel Stute, who switched the colt to sprints after he dashed to the lead but faded in longer races. Rene Douglas, who won the Belmont Stakes aboard Editor's Note, will ride the heavily raced 4-year-old.

All of the connections covet this purse, but none more than Dutrow, who bred and owns Lite The Fuse.

"I would much rather win a big race in Maryland than in New York," Dutrow said. "I figure that's my people down here."

De Francis Dash

What: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

Where: Laurel Park

When: 5: 36 p.m. today

Purse: $300,000

Distance: Six furlongs

Defending champ: Lite The Fuse

Field:

PP, Horse ............. Jockey .................... Wgt. .......... Odds

Heroic Pursuit ..... Nick Santagata ............ 114 ........... 30-1

2, Not Surprising ..... Herberto Castillo Jr. ..... 117 ........... 6-1

3, Meadow Monster ..... Edgar Prado ............... 119 ........... 2-1

4, Lite the Fuse ...... Julie Krone ............... 117 ........... 5-2

5, Lord Carson ........ Donna Barton .............. 117 ........... 12-1

6, Prospect Bay ....... Mike Smith ................ 114 ........... 7-2

7 Score Quick ......... Rene Douglas .............. 114 ........... 5-1

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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