Laurel, Md. — Thirty-four sprinters have been nominated to the 23rd running of the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park next Saturday, Nov. 15.
Introduced in 1990, the De Francis Dash is one of the elite 6-furlong sprints in the country with four of the 22 winners-Housebuster (1991), Cherokee Run (1994), Smoke Glacken (1997) and Thor’s Echo (2006)-earning Eclipse Award honors for champion sprinter.
Among those pre-entered are horses from the powerful barns of D. Wayne Lukas, Steve Asmussen, Kieran McLaughlin and Chad Brown.
Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator Coley Blind says Bern Identity, Happy My Way, Heaven’s Runway, La Verdad and River Rocks are being pointed to Laurel’s most important race. He also expects David Jacobson (four pre-entries) and Rudy Rodriguez (three nominations) to have runners for the race.
Bern Identity won three stakes races in a 35-day period this summer for trainer Kelly Breen, including the Dave’s Friend Stakes at Laurel on September 6, before a third place in the Phoenix Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last month.
“That horse has been here for a week,” Blind said. “He worked a bullet (half-mile in 46 seconds) Wednesday morning. Kelly has been looking forward to this race.”
Happy My Way has finished first or second in five of six this year, including a score in the Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3) at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness day.
La Verdad has six stakes victories in 10 starts this year and finished second in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap (G2) at Laurel in February.
Ben’s Cat is an intriguing nomination.Though he is famous for being one of the top turf sprinters in the country, the King Leatherbury homebred is no slouch on the main track with 10 victories in 14 races on the dirt, including five stakes wins, and is 6-for-7 at the De Francis distance. Overall, the 8-year-old is 27-of-44 lifetime for earnings of $2,205,990.
“I would be surprised if he ran because King has won the Fabulous Strike with the Cat at Penn National the last two years,” added Blind. “I would love to have him but he owns that race and it gives him an extra 11 days coming out of the Maryland Million (October 18). At 8 years old you have to pick your spots.”
The Fall Festival of Racing card also features five additional $100,000 stakes races.
The Richard Small Stakes for 3-year-olds and up drew 45 nominations. The City Of Laurel Stakes for 3-year-olds has 43 nominees. The Safely Kept Stakes for 3-year-old fillies has 32 nominations. The James Lewis Stakes for 2-year-olds features 34 nominations. The Smart Halo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies attracted 30 pre-entries.