Top field to line up for De Francis Dash
Sonny Inspired won the Ben’s Cat Stakes in March. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
From a Maryland Jockey Club release
Having recovered from spring knee surgery and with a Grade 1 tightener under his belt, Rockingham Ranch and Gelfenstein Farm’s multiple graded stakes winner X Y Jet continues his comeback in the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) presented by Maker’s Mark Saturday at Laurel Park.
The 25th running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up is the centerpiece of an 11-race Fall Festival of Racing program that serves up seven stakes worth $825,000 in purses. A total of 142 horses were entered on the card, an average of 12.9 starters per race.
Also on tap are the $100,000 Richard W. Small for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles presented by Samsung Business; the $100,000 City of Laurel presented by Fidelity First and $100,000 Safely Kept for 3-year-old sprinters presented by Insight; the $100,000 James F. Lewis III presented by Ourisman of Bowie and $100,000 Smart Halo for 2-year-olds presented by B&B Commercial Interiors and the $75,000 Geisha for Maryland-bred/sired females 3 and up at one mile presented by Detail Finishes.
Post time for the Fall Festival of Racing, which also includes four races over Laurel’s world-class turf course, is noon EST.
The De Francis, run as a Grade 3 from 1992-93, a Grade 2 from 1994-98 and a Grade 1 from 1999-2009, was restored to graded status for 2016. Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, it has been won by champions such as Housebuster, Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull.
X Y Jet established himself as one of the country’s top sprinters with a five-race win streak that stretched from last September to late February, earning stakes victories in the Mr. Prospector (G3), Sunshine Millions Sprint and Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) over the winter.
From there he traveled in March to Dubai for the $2 million Golden Shaheen (G1), where he took the lead in deep stretch but was headed approaching the wire and lost by a neck. He exited that race with a chipped knee that needed to be removed, keeping him from the races until a fifth-place finish in the six-furlong Vosburgh (G1) Oct. 1 at Belmont Park.
South Florida-based trainer Jorge Navarro passed on the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita and instead brought X Y Jet to Gulfstream Park West, where the 4-year-old Kantharos gelding has posted a pair of bullet workouts including five furlongs in 58 seconds, the fastest of 21 horses, Nov. 12.
“We did surgery on him and he was out for three months. He came back in training again and it was another three months, but he’s ready,” Navarro said. “The owners left it up to me for the Breeders’ Cup and I said, ‘No. I’m not looking for just one race, I’m looking for the future. This is a nice horse we’re talking about.’
“He went in 21 and 43 [seconds] last time, and I watched the races at Belmont for the last two months and there was nothing even close going that fast,” he added. “He came out of the last race really good. He’s ready.”
The De Francis will be only the fifth race this year for X Y Jet, a winner of six races and $776,153 in purse earnings from 16 lifetime starts. He will be running for the first time at Laurel but has four wins and a second from seven career tries at the distance. Regular rider Emisael Jaramillo will be up from Post 8 of nine. All horses will carry 118 pounds.
“Jose Garcia worked him last week. I was in California so I needed somebody that I could trust, and he said, ‘Jorge, from the half-mile pole to the wire, I never saw a horse go that fast in my life,’ and he went in 47 [seconds],” Navarro said. “He’s doing excellent. He’s ready for the race.”
Vosburgh runner-up Stallwalkin’ Dude, a multiple stakes-winning veteran of 46 career races with 16 victories and more than $1 million in purse earnings, is cuts back following his 1 ½-length triumph in the seven-furlong Bold Ruler (G3) Oct. 29 at Belmont.
The Bold Ruler was the first graded win for the 6-year-old gelding who finished fourth in the 2015 De Francis, won by Gentlemen’s Bet when first-place finisher Trouble Kid was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
“Any graded race is huge but when you’ve competed so hard for so many times against all these great horses, to finally win one of those was a little extra special. To be able to campaign for as long as he’s been campaigning at this level is very impressive,” New York-based trainer and co-owner David Jacobson said.
“He’s a real classy horse and he knows how to take care of himself. He lets me know when he needs a little rest between races and when he’s ready to run right back. It’s good communication between the two of us,” he added. “It’s one race at a time, and right now it looks like he’s right there at the top of his game and we’re going to take advantage of it.”
Joe Bravo, aboard for a win in the Tale of the Cat Stakes Aug. 12 at Saratoga, has the mount from Post 9.
Shipping in from the Midwest is six-time stakes winner Ivan Fallunovalot, trained by W.T. ‘Tom’ Howard for Lewis E. Matthews Jr. The 6-year-old Valid Expectations gelding takes a three-race win streak into the De Francis, though he has raced just twice since Jan. 30 and not since his third straight victory in the David M. Vance Sprint Sept. 25 at Remington Park.
“He has quarter cracks quite often. His feet are not good so it’s a constant battle with him. That’s why he was off so long. Once we got ready to roll again there’s not that many kinds of races around there where we’re at, so we headed off this way,” Howard said. “He comes back good. He knows his job and he tends to business. He doesn’t get worried about much. He’s pretty relaxed and on race day he knows what he’s doing.”
Ivan Fallunovalot owns 14 wins and $650,808 in career purse earnings from 23 races, and is 10-for-15 at six furlongs. Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, who returned from a five-month retirement in August, comes in to ride from Post 2.
Non Stop Stable’s Final Prospect is seeking his first stakes victory in the De Francis. Trained by Gary Capuano, the 4-year-old Maryland-bred gelding was last seen finishing third in the six-furlong New Castle Stakes Sept. 10 at Delaware Park. He wound up placed second after being bumped and forced to check in the stretch.
Final Prospect opened 2016 with a second-level optional claiming allowance win Jan. 1, his most recent victory, before finishing fourth in a pair of sprint stakes to fellow De Francis contender Sonny Inspired. Jevian Toldeo has the call from Post 5.
“The last race was a killer. It’s a four-horse field and he gets in trouble and he still runs huge,” Capuano said. “If he had gotten a clean trip it might have been different, but that’s horse racing. It was one of those unfortunate things but he ran well. I’ve got no complaints with it.”
Capuano is one of three Maryland-based trainers with horses in the De Francis. Phil Schoenthal entered multiple stakes winner Sonny Inspired, who drew the rail, while Stephen Casey has Rockinn On Bye set to start from Post 7 with jockey Taylor Hole.
Sonny Inspired, a 5-year-old gelding by Artie Schiller, sandwiched Fire Plug and Ben’s Cat stakes wins around a third-place finish in the General George (G3) in mid-February. Fifth in last year’s De Francis, he most recently ran into traffic trouble in the 1 1/8-mile Find Stakes on the Pimlico turf June 25 and wound up fourth.
Rockinn On Bye is winless in nine starts this year with three seconds and three thirds, having placed in four stakes including a third-place finish in the Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3) at odds of 54-1 on the Preakness (G1) undercard May 21.
Rounding out the field are multiple stakes winner Weekend Hideaway, third in the Vosburgh; Life in Shambles, second in the 2014 Sir Barton at Pimlico; and stakes-placed Pomeroy’s Package.