As Yogi Berra and the pop song by John Fogerty say, it's deja vu all over again - in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash tomorrow at Pimlico Race Course.
Last year, A Huevo entered the Grade I sprint off two races in 2003. This year, he enters off two races in 2004. And like last year, trainer Michael Dickinson and owner Mark Hopkins don't know what to expect when the oft-injured, 8-year-old gelding takes on as many as nine speedy challengers in the six-furlong dash for $300,000.
"You can never tell with this horse," said Dickinson, who trains at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County. "Any race could be his last race."
That said, Dickinson added: "He's as good as he's ever been. He's always had problems. We've just had to nurse him through them."
The De Francis Dash headlines the best racing program in Maryland since Preakness day. Five other stakes will take place, of which four offer a $100,000 purse and two carry a Grade III rating.
Despite his claim as the De Francis Dash's defending champ, A Huevo is ranked by Frank Carulli, Pimlico oddsmaker, as a 10-1 long shot. Four horses boast lower morning-line odds: Midas Eyes at 2-1, Clock Stopper at 3-1, Champali at 7-2 and Shake You Down at 8-1.
"This year's race is tougher, a lot tougher than last year's," Dickinson said. "It has both strength and depth."
A Huevo emerged from last year's victory - a 1 3/4 -length score after a relentless charge from last - with a strained tendon in his left foreleg. That was another in a series of setbacks that has limited the aged gelding to nine starts, of which he's won six.
A Huevo didn't race from fall 1999 to summer 2003 because of various ailments and injuries. After returning to competition in August 2003, he raced twice in preparation for his De Francis Dash upset at 9-1 odds.
This year, he's again raced twice. In the Forego Handicap Sept. 4 at Saratoga, a Grade I race of seven furlongs, A Huevo finished a lackluster seventh. An abscess was discovered in his left front foot.
After recovering from that, A Huevo, a West Virginia-bred, raced Oct. 9 in the 1 1/8 -mile West Virginia Breeders' Classic at Charles Town. He won by an astonishing 19 1/4 lengths.
Hopkins, his owner, was impressed. Hopkins is Andy Beyer's partner in the Beyer Speed Figure business.
"Ramon [Dominguez, his jockey] never asked him to run a step," Hopkins said. "He came back and he wasn't even blowing."
Carulli, the oddsmaker, was not impressed.
"That was probably the worst stakes field assembled this year," Carulli said. "You can't take that 19-length win for anything."
Hopkins had hoped to run A Huevo in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but the Forego debacle forced a switch to Plan B. That was a start in the De Francis Dash at six furlongs, the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct or the Clark Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs. The Clark and Cigar Mile are Nov. 27.
Hopkins said he will probably scratch A Huevo if Pimlico's track is muddy. The forecast calls for showers and temperatures near 60.
At a glance
What: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash
Where: Pimlico Race Course
When: Tomorrow, post time 4:32 p.m.
Distance: Six furlongs
Undercard: Five stakes, including four with $100,000 purses
First race: 12:15 p.m.