Stars rise for De Francis Dash

One of `toughest' fields in nation to run at Pimlico

Horse Racing

November 20, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Contested three weeks after the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash provides those who stubbed their toe in the big dance or missed it altogether a second chance.

Four horses who ran in the $1 million Sprint at Lone Star Park, along with three who had hoped to, make up the majority of the field in the $300,000 De Francis Dash today at Pimlico Race Course. One of three Grade I stakes in Maryland, the De Francis Dash is one of the most prestigious six-furlong races in the country.

It headlines the Fall Festival of Racing that includes five other stakes. A highlight of the racing season in Maryland, the races attracted seven of the top nine money-earning jockeys in North America, including Edgar Prado on Midas Eyes, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, and Jerry Bailey on Clock Stopper, the 3-1 second choice.

Midas Eyes was favored in the Breeders' Cup Sprint but never secured a competitive position from his outside post in the 13-horse field. He finished 10th. Also, he bit his tongue in the paddock, possibly compromising his chances, said Bobby Frankel, his trainer.

Frankel and Prado said the inside post at Pimlico will help. Midas Eyes broke from the 3 post when he captured his lone Grade I win, the seven-furlong Forego Handicap this summer at Saratoga.

Clock Stopper claimed second in the Forego, charging from far back but finishing in futility. That's been Clock Stopper's shortcoming when he races top horses. He has finished second or third five times in graded stakes but hasn't won one.

Dallas Stewart, his Kentucky-based trainer, secured Bailey for the De Francis Dash. Still, Stewart said, Clock Stopper needs luck to win - a vicious speed duel among the front-runners and a clear path to launch his late rally. He finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Clock Stopper shared a plane from Churchill Downs with his traveling companion, Champali, the 7-2 third choice in the De Francis Dash. The two 4-year-olds have raced against each other five times in their past 10 races in Kentucky, Texas and Florida.

Named after Muhammad Ali, Champali finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Sprint after a troubled trip. Trained by Greg Foley, he will likely contest the pace with Abbondanza and Shake You Down.

The Pimlico-stabled Abbondanza led the Breeders' Cup Sprint into the turn but faded to 11th. Tim Tullock Jr., his trainer, said the De Francis Dash should suit him better.

"It's home field," Tullock said. "He's won over the track. He trains dynamite over the track. I think he's got a legitimate shot."

Abbondanza won't be on the lead, Tullock said, "unless Shake You Down falls out of the starting gate." Trained by Scott Lake, Shake You Down finished second as the favorite in last year's De Francis Dash after finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He missed the Sprint this year after Lake gave him the summer off to recover from soreness, the trainer said. This will be Shake You Down's first race since May.

"He's doing great, actually, better than ever," Lake said.

A Huevo, last year's winner of the De Francis Dash, and Gators N Bears, last year's third-place finisher, also missed the Breeders' Cup Sprint after injuries disrupted their training. Michael Dickinson, trainer of A Huevo, and Leo S. Nechamkin III, the Pimlico-based trainer and owner of Gators N Bears, said this year's De Francis Dash is far tougher than last year's.

"Short of the Breeders' Cup Sprint," Nechamkin said, "this is the toughest sprint race I've seen all year."

NOTES: New York trainer Todd Pletcher entered True Direction and Lion Tamer in the De Francis Dash. He said yesterday that he still hadn't decided whether to run one or neither. He said he would not run both. ...

After competing in the $100,000 Charles H. Hadry Stakes, Bowman's Band will retire to the Maryland Stallion Station, where he'll stand at stud for $6,000. The 6-year-old hasn't won since the Grade II Meadowlands Cup in October 2003, but in the past 12 months he has raced in nine Grade I stakes. He has 14 top-three finishes in graded races and has earned $1.3 million. ...

Although the Pimlico races attracted horses from around the country, the hometown He Loves Me is the 5-2 favorite in the $100,000 Anne Arundel Stakes, a Grade III stakes for 3-year-old fillies. ... The Grade III $100,000 Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds and the $100,000 Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies showcase some of the leading young horses in the East.

At a glance

What: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Today, post time 4:32 p.m.

Purse: $300,000

Distance: Six furlongs

Grade: I

Undercard: Five stakes, including four with $100,000 purses

First race: 12:15 p.m.

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