Jalen Journey
Jalen Journey (left) was put up via disqualification in the De Francis Dash. Photo Jerry Dzierwinski.

“Nobody likes to be winning like that, but he was the best horse in the race and he deserved to get put up,” Feargal Lynch said moments after Saturday’s Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

On a day that kept the stewards busy, their presence was never more important than in the De Francis. Following a Lynch objection against first-past-the-post Wondrwherecraigis and a lengthy delay to consider it, the stewards switched the order of finish, elevating Lynch and Jalen Journey to first and placing Wondrwherecraigis (Jevian Toledo) second.

“The five-horse [Wondrwherecraigis] did come out of his path and was getting hit left-handed,” said Toby Sheets, assistant to Steve Asmussen, trainer of Jalen Journey. “It was kind of a hazing thing the whole way: no-brainer.”

The triumph in the $200,000 contest gave Jalen Journey, owned by Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen LLC, his eighth win from 16 career starts and pushed his bankroll to $503,674. It was his third victory in four starts and first graded win after having previously placed in two other graded events.

When the gates opened, the speedy Kalu was away quickest, setting a tempo of 21.98 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.11 for the half. All the while, Wondrwherecragis was breathing down his neck, just a head behind as the field reached the quarter-pole, and Jalen Journey was a couple of lengths farther back watching it unfold.

As the field turned for home, it was clear that Wondrwherecraigis had the measure of Kalu, but Jalen Journey loomed a threat. Near the sixteenth pole, Wondrwherecraigis drifted out while under left-handed urging into the path of the oncoming Jalen Journey, who himself was drifting in.

At the finish the margin was three parts of a length, with Kalu another 1 ¾ lengths farther back in third. Running time for the six furlongs over a fast main track was 1:09.52. Local favorite Laki, the defending champion, finished last of the six.

As they waited out the objection, observers were somewhat split, with most seeming to think the order of finish would remain unchanged but some expecting the stewards to follow the course of action they ultimately did and flip the finish.

Lynch, on the other hand, was pretty confident.

“I think I was going by and not just once but the whole momentum when I was coming to make my challenge,” he said. “I’ve lost my track, he took my ground.”

Off as the 1.30-1 second choice, Jalen Journey paid $4.60 to win and topped an exacta, with the favorite underneath, that returned $4.60 for a dollar.

The disqualification denied Brittany Russell, the trainer of Wondrwherecraigis, what would have been her first graded stakes victory. It also prevented jockey Jevian Toledo from earning a stakes hat trick; he’d earlier won the Weathervane aboard Hello Beautiful and the Twixt on Dreamalildreamofu.

It was the second time in four years that Lynch and Asmussen have teamed up to win this event. They’d also combined to win the 2018 edition with Switzerland.

Jalen Journey. Photo by The Racing Biz.
Jalen Journey in the post parade. Photo by The Racing Biz.

“He was a nice horse,” Lynch said. “Switzerland was straightforward. He went to the lead that day and never looked back. That was easy; this one was a little tougher. Hopefully, next year will be easy as well.”

LAUREL NOTES Hello Beautiful won the Weathervane by over 10 lengths in nearly identical time to the De Francis: 1:09.56 for the Toledo-Russell team, Toledo replacing the injured Sheldon Russell. It was Hello Beautiful’s seventh stakes win… Toledo also won the the Twixt aboard Dreamalildreamofu for trainer Brad Cox, wearing down Artful Splatter to win by a head in 1:36.28 for the mile… Lynch and Asmussen also teamed up to win the Polynesian in an upset with Captain Bombastic in 1:36.11 for a mile. He was, at 10-1, the longest-priced stakes winner on the day…