Three naturals for Dash With speed to burn, De Francis the stage

July 18, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The question in a six-furlong race is a question of speed. In the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash today at Laurel Park, three horses hold the answer.

Kelly Kip, Affirmed Success and Heckofaralph are three of the country's fastest horses out of the gate. You can wait until about 5: 25 p.m. today to find out who is fastest, or you can listen now to the Florida trainer Bill Cesare.

"He's going to go to the front," Cesare said about Heckofaralph, one of two horses he'll saddle for the De Francis Dash. "If they catch him, they catch him.

"But when they open the gate, he'll be eyeball-to-eyeball with Kelly Kip. I can't tell you which one will be standing at the end, or whether either of them will be standing at the end, but I do know which one is going to be out there first."

Although several big-name sprinters failed to enter the De Francis Dash -- even though among North American sprints its $300,000 purse is second only to the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint -- the race is blessed with three unabashed speedballs.

There is precedence. Three winners of the eight Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dashes -- the race was inaugurated in 1990 to honor the man who revitalized Maryland racing -- have won Eclipse awards as the country's top sprinter.

The most recent was Smoke Glacken last year, preceded by Cherokee Run in 1994 and Housebuster in 1991.

In this year's renewal, Heckofaralph is the only one of the seven Dash entrants with a two-race win streak. His most recent victory, the six-furlong Miami Beach Handicap last month at Calder Race Course, was most impressive. He zipped to the front in the $300,000 race and never looked back, even as his stablemate, Thunder Breeze, Cesare's other entrant today, pursued him hotly down the stretch.

"I like both my horses," said Cesare, a former professional football player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. "Thunder Breeze is improving, and he'll be coming from off the pace."

With such blazing early speed -- Kelly Kip has set three track records on the lead -- handicappers might conclude that others also will be coming from off the pace.

Jove Stone might lead the charge. Trained by Dick Dutrow and owned by Peter Angelos, the 4-year-old local colt has won four of his last five races from off the pace. But those races were at Pimlico and Laurel Park against lesser horses than the ones shipping in today.

Still, Dutrow, the only trainer to win two De Francis dashes (with Lite the Fuse in 1995 and 1996), said he likes his chances.

"I feel very good about this race," Dutrow said. "What made Jove Stone is just letting him make one run the last part. There's enough speed in there that if they falter, we'll darn sure be there to pick up the pieces."

Jerry Barton, who manages D. Wayne Lukas's stable at Belmont Park, said he expects Partner's Hero and his Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day also to sweep down on the leaders late.

JoAnn and David Hayden hope so. Owners of Dark Hollow Farm in Upperco, they own Safely Home, the dam of Partner's Hero. Along with Howard Gilman, they bred her to Danzig in 1993 and the next year got Partner's Hero. The 4-year-old colt has been first or second in 11 of 27 races.

And the Bowie-based Wayne Bailey, who trains Wise Dusty -- a long shot this year but runner-up last year -- said the 7-year-old gelding has shown him all the signs indicating a top performance. The recent turf races, Bailey said, were conditioners for today.

But when the gate springs open in the ninth Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, all eyes will train on the trio of speedsters whose early duel should be breathtaking.

Despite Cesare's assurance that Heckofaralph will be on the lead, the H. Allen Jerkens-trainee Kelly Kip has zipped to the front in his last five races.

And Affirmed Success, a lightly raced gelding still developing, may be just as fast. His trainer, Richard Schosberg, watched Kelly Kip lick Affirmed Success by two lengths a month ago in the $200,000, six-furlong Finger Lakes Breeders' Cup.

Schosberg understands the dilemma.

"You don't want to burn yourself out too early," said Schosberg from his barn at Belmont Park. "But if you give Kelly Kip two lengths, he'll just get that much bolder on the lead. You might as well say you're running for second."

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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