'Tiger' runs away with Dash

`Gators' far back

Horse racing

November 20, 2005|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

I'm the Tiger moved smoothly into the winner's circle last night after a dominating performance in the $300,000 Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Laurel Park officials hung a swath of red, yellow and white carnations around his neck and jockey Jerry Bailey, the crow's feet around his eyes in full display, turned and gave a long-practiced smile to the cameras.

It was Bailey's third win of the day in three tries and the biggest win of the afternoon, but the victory photo was no sooner taken than Bailey had jumped off his horse and run. He was off, seemingly as swiftly I'm the Tiger had left the starting gate, to catch a plane to his next assignment.

I'm the Tiger, who beat Tiger Heart by 3 1/4 lengths and paid $8.40, $4.80 and $3.60, then left for the barn, leaving Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Joe De Francis holding the trophy.

"I can't ever remember a race of this magnitude when no one was there to accept the trophy," said De Francis, as he looked around to present the award named after his late father.

Finally, he presented it to his wife, Katherine, as a representative of winning owner Stronach Stables, and said, if nothing else, "We'll have a memorable picture of me and my wife."

A few minutes later, however, trainer Robert Frankel showed up. He was simply late, having stayed in his front-stretch box suite long enough to watch another of his horses, Movie Star, finish fourth at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

The presentation ceremony was repeated and Frankel was happy enough to accept the award named for Frank De Francis. "Anytime you win a Grade I stakes, it's special," he said.

The Dash, one of just five Grade I sprints, is named for the late owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. De Francis was a racing fan from the age of 14 until he died in August 1989. He owned horses but was best known for his leadership at Maryland's two leading racetracks and for helping the sport grow.

Billed as Laurel's "Fall Festival of Racing," Dash day featured eight stakes with purses totaling $981,000 and showed a record handle of $4,748,711 for the 16-year-old event.

Along with double-digit fields in six of the 10 races, including a record-setting 14 horses in the Dash, the crowd of 13,433 got to see the three best jockeys in the country, based on earnings. John Velazquez, Edgar Prado and Bailey all had multiple rides yesterday.

Bailey swept, winning on all three of his mounts, adding to his Dash victory with wins in the $125,000 Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies aboard J'ray, and the $75,000 Laurel Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up on Dreadnaught.

Velazquez and Prado were shut out.

Sensibly Chic, scratched from the Dash to try to repeat her victory in the Stefanita Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up, finished third, beaten by Princess Pelona, a 16-1 shot who paid $35.60, $12.60 and $2.80, and Traci Girl, $4.60 and $2.40.

Sum Marval was another upset winner, going off at 23-1 in the Maryland Million Starter Handicap, but winning and paying $48.60, $19.20 and $7.80.

In the Dash, Saay Mi Name, owned and trained by Wayne Bailey, was the highest-finishing Maryland horse, coming home fifth.

Gators N Bears, the local favorite running his last race after a career in which he won $803,000, finished 12th.

"This was his way of telling me, `It's time,'" said owner-trainer Leo Nechamkin, whose horse will retire to his new life at the Maryland Stallion Station today.

"Everyone wants to go out on top, but this may have been one race too many for him. The rider [Abel Castellano Jr.] told me he never picked up the bit. ... It was a day for Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey."

Frankel was particularly pleased with I'm the Tiger's performance. His 5-year-old bay gelding ran the six furlongs in 1 minute, 9.06 seconds.

"I think I'm the Tiger showed today he is a very nice horse, probably one of the top five [sprinters] in the country," Frankel said. "I don't think there is too much separating him from the horses who ran in the Breeders' Cup. My horse wasn't Breeders' Cup-nominated and I think Lost in the Fog should win the Eclipse."

A year ago in this race, which was run at Pimlico, I'm the Tiger got stuck behind horses and finished second.

This time, he broke sharply from the gate and Bailey took him to the front quickly en route to the dominating victory.

smm2me@aol.com

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