From a Maryland Jockey Club release

The Laurel Park racing office produced one of the best cards of the year on Saturday afternoon. The nine-race Fall Festival of Racing card drew 113 entries with eight of the races garnering double-digit fields. The day is headlined by the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash and features five $100,000 stakes races.

“Kudos and compliments to stakes coordinator Coley Blind and the rest of the racing office who assembled the card,” said Maryland Jockey Club handicapper Keith Feustle. “It reminded me of the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan cards with quality races from top to bottom.”

Seven of the 10 sprinters in the De Francis Dash are graded stakes winners. Introduced in 1990, the De Francis Dash is one of the elite 6-furlong sprints in the country with four of the 22 previous winners-Housebuster (1991), Cherokee Run (1994), Smoke Glacken (1997) and Thor’s Echo (2006)-earning Eclipse Award honors for champion sprinter.

Julian Pimentel has decided to ride 5-2 morning line choice Dads Caps instead of Ben’s Cat. Owner-trainer King Leatherbury has indicated he will likely scratch Ben’s Cat on Saturday morning and run in the Fabulous Strike Stakes at Penn National on November 26.

In other De Francis Dash news, C.C. Lopez was named to ride Bern Identity. The 54-year-old was aboard the son of Bernstein when he won the Dave’s Friend Stakes at Laurel on September 6.


Horses shipping into the central Maryland track have been assigned the role as favorite in all five stakes on the undercard.

The $100,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 2-year old fillies has attracted seven runners including the 6-5 favorite Overprepared from the Todd Pletcher barn. A winner in her first and only race, the daughter of Quality Road outstepped her rivals to win by 3-1/2 lengths at Belmont Park on October 19. Jose Ortiz picks up the mount and will send her on her way from the rail post position. E Dubai’s Humor, 2-for-2 so far in her career, is second choice at 5-2 for trainer Donald Barr. Forest Boyce replaces Grant Whitacre on the filly, who earned victories here on October 11 and November 6.

“The only concern I have about her is the quick turnaround,” Barr said. “When the race filled last week you knew it was going to be a problem, especially for a 2-year-old filly but she is going to get an extended break until after Christmas after this race. This is a short field and her numbers match up with the favorite but you have to respect Todd Pletcher. He wins stakes races all over the country.”

Barr, who is 9-for-24 at the current fall meeting, is one of five local trainers to saddle runners in the six stakes races Saturday. In the $100,000 City Of Laurel Stakes, Barr will saddle 20-1 shot Cutty Shark. The 3-year-old son of Old Fashioned has three victories at Laurel Park, including a 4-3/4 length score on October 16 at the 7-furlong distance.

“He’s earned the right to be here,” Barr added. “I thought he ran great in his last race and has worked well since. This looks like his best distance and for straight 3-year-olds how do you not go? I really think it is an evenly matched race. There are a lot of the same horses. I feel like if we get a good trip we have a chance.”

Other local trainers with multiple runners are Mike Trombetta (four starters), Hamilton Smith (three), Damon Dilodovico (two) and John Rigattieri (two).

Cinco Charlie earned his position as the 7-5 favorite in the $100,000 James F. Lewis III Stakes for 2-year olds off of two stakes victories during his budding juvenile campaign. The Steve Asmussen trained son of Indian Charlie captured the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June and the First State Dash at Delaware Park in September. He ships to Laurel from Kentucky and will carry Ricardo Santana. Majestic Affair (7-2), arrives from Belmont Park for trainer Chad Brown and has won two of three starts, most recently a gate-to-wire triumph over entry level allowance runners at Parx.The top local hope is Golden Years (6-1) from the Rodney Jenkins barn. The son of Not For Love is a perfect 2-for-2, including a score in the Maryland Million Nursery last month.

The $100,000 City Of Laurel Stakes will pit a full gate of runners in the seven furlong contest on the main track. Tony Dutrow trains In Trouble, the 3-1 favorite, who won the Futurity (G2) a year ago but has just one in the money finish in three starts this year. Bump Start (4-1) travels to Laurel from Keeneland. The son of Jump Start finished third, behind De Francis Dash entry Favorite Tale, in the Gallant Bob Stakes (G3) in September.

“This is a really nice race,” added Feustle. “I gave a slight edge to In Trouble based off the runners he faced last year as a 2-year-old, running against the likes of Samraat and Uncle Sigh. He showed a lot of promise. We haven’t seen him since June but he is working very forwardly for this race. Dutrow horses running off a layoff usually draw a lot of attention.”

Gary Contessa is sending Shayjolie (4-1) from Belmont Park in search of victory in the $100,000 Safely Kept Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. A two-time winner at her home track, the daughter of Indian Charlie will have Jose Ortiz in the irons for the seven furlong event over the main track. Second choice on the morning line goes to True Romance (9-2), who broke her maiden at Belmont Park in late October. Joe Bravo rides for trainer Tim Hills.

“True Romance is a little light in terms of experience but her last race was impressive,” Feustle added. “She ran faster than older fillies that same day but I went with experience with Shayjolie. She and 5-1 third choice Taketheodds come out of the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland. How tough is this race? Vero Amore, who was beaten a neck in the Black-Eyed Susan is 10-1 and so is Stormy Novel who ran second to Miss Behaviour in the Miss Preakness. I had a hard time separating these horses.”

The first running of the $100,000 Richard W. Small Stakes will have thirteen runners going 1-1/8 miles. The lukewarm 7-2 morning line choice is the David Jacobson trained Stormin Monarcho, a 7-time winner making his first foray to Laurel. The son of Monarchos became a stakes winner in September when he captured the Governor’s Day Stakes at Delaware Park. Jevian Toledo gets his first try on this one. Turco Bravo (4-1) makes his way to Laurel from Chile after making one start at Gulfstream Park West, where he finished a fast closing third in a minor stakes. Pimentel picks up the mount for trainer Contessa.

“The two favorites are coming out of the same race. Turco Bravo finished ahead of Stormin Monarcho in that race but Stormin Monarcho was 5-2 while Turco Bravo was 20-1,” Feustle said. “The horse I like is Page McKenney, who I lined at 6-1. Mary Eppler claimed this horse for $16,000 in 2013 and he has earned almost $250,000 this year. He is in top form and could get a perfect trip.”

The three non-stakes races on the card are all allowance races, two scheduled for the turf. Total purses for the program are $981,000 making it the fourth biggest on the Maryland racing calendar this year, trailing only the Preakness ($2.85 million), Black-Eyed Susan ($1.6 million) and Maryland Million ($1 million) cards.

(Featured image, of Golden Years, by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.)