Laurel Park Race 9
The Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash
Grade III—Purse: $250,000
6 Furlongs on Dirt for Three-year-olds and Upward
Analysis by Michael Patricks
It’s a banner weekend from Woodbine Race Course in Toronto with a pair of Grade 1’s and a Grade 2 on turf, but south of the Ontarian border is a big day from Laurel Park in Maryland. Deep fields are aplenty on the card and sticking with the theme of giving some love to the lesser-publicized tracks in the national mainstream (Hastings Park last week) Laurel Park gets the call for this weekend’s write up, and their Grade III headliner: The Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Seven colts and geldings will pound on the ground in an effort to secure the trophy for their backers and handlers. Who will have a little extra pep in their step and glide in their stride when strutting back to the test barn with victory in tow? Those answers and more are can be found below.
1-Struth 12/1 ML- Has campaigned around the eastern seaboard with tremendous success and has pocketed the best part of $140,000 in earnings after having been claimed for a $20,000 pittance back in May. Struth is no stranger to the Laurel Park oval with 11 lifetime starts and mixed results from those efforts. His race in the Coalition at Timonium in his last start was adequate but not overly impressive and he has open lengths to make up on the second choice Saturday in Blu Moon Ace. The rail draw will likely temper any borderline enthusiasm many would have of potentially including him in their plans. Respect the claim and his story overall but a Grade III appears to be out of his grasp–and that’s the truth…Struth.
2-Mr. Jordan 12/1 ML- If you like 12/1 shots breaking from the inside stalls who are sprinting in graded-stakes company, we have the race for you. So, onto Mr. Jordan we go. It feels like I’ve been watching this horse race for as long as I can remember, and yet it is only start 23 for him. On paper, he really appears stuck between being an allowance dynamo and a poor man’s stakes goer. He’s tried the Iselin from Monmouth the last two years and faded in the final furlong each time so the cutback in distance makes some sense, but does he really want to sprint 6 furlongs? Prado does not ride much for this outfit and there are plenty of new angles which could prove to be too many obstacles to overcome at once; on his best day he can do damage but he’s a very tough read, thus he’s an outsider for top honors.
3-Awesome Banner 7/2 ML– He got to within a half-length of race-favorite Whitmore back on May 20th when he was sent off at odds of better than 30/1 and now he shows up at 7/2 on the morning line on Saturday. This is a classic illustration as to why racing can be so difficult in that you’re having to take such a hit on your price if you like him since he’s fancied much more-so in the court of public opinion than he had been before. He still hasn’t won this year and his last “victory” came in November at Mahoning Valley, but he had his number taken down. The rider who has enjoyed the most amount of success on his back will be in the saddle here, but even though he finished second in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt most recently at Saratoga, it was a chasm back to second place in that affair and he was only a head in front of third so I’m not going to read too much into that; will have a wing over every hoof early on but he appears to have the look of a pace player only.
4-Whitmore 7/5 ML- Was thought to be a two-turn horse until he displayed a penchant for sprinting with his return to the races in December of last year. Whitmore has always fired fresh and is undefeated from three layoff runs. It may be crazy to try and beat him but I will try and do it anyway because my handicapping philosophy has always been to try and get around the chalk. He hasn’t been working a steady hole in the wind for his return to the races and maybe he isn’t fully cranked for this with the Breeders’ Cup Sprint a possibility in just six weeks. If he fires, he will win; however, he will have to reel in some horses who are in strong form off the layoff with a modest work tab and a short price hanging over him. Must respect this gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect and the triple digit Beyers speak volumes; the heavyweight and one to beat.
5-Blu Moon Ace 9/2 ML- Going great guns and was haltered for a $30,000 tag in an optional claimer that he dominated over a next-out winner in Running Mate. Blu Moon Ace came right back in the Coalition at Timonium with a huge effort off the claim and took care of business with plenty to spare, hoisting a 99 Beyer figure in the process. The Maryland-bred has plenty of early speed, or could sit right off Awesome Banner if he is determined to lead early and get his head in front early on. This is the best form this horse has ever been in, (or will likely ever be in) and now is the time to invest if you believe in the “hot horse” theory. I’m not casting any aspersions here, but the barn is batting at over FIFTY PERCENT in 2017 from 59 starters and the jockey and trainer combine to win 48 percent of their races from 119 starters. Getting odds of 9/2 on an entrant who has never been better…and for a trainer that wins half his races is my kind of bet; Blu Moon Ace gets the call for me six days a week and twice on Sunday.
6-Chublicious 8/1 ML- Gelded son of Hey Chub has essentially done all his damage at or near the Jersey shore and has made a good living running in state-bred races. Three of his four wins on the page fall under that category but he typically brings a respectable effort regardless of the competition he faces. ‘Chub tried Grade 1 sprinters at Saratoga last summer and was well supported at 6/1 even though he was handled by better than seven lengths. He should be rolling from behind going from route-to-sprint and could find himself with plenty of pace to chase. His two starts at Laurel were both decent, yet he was out finished in the stretch by his competitors. Jockey Victor Carrasco is 0-for-3 atop this one’s back and beating Whitmore and company would be a huge surprise; pass.
7-Favorite Tale 5/1 ML- Back in training at the tender age of six after just the one start from his five-year-old season. He was able to get black type in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2015, finishing 3rd to champion sprinter Runhappy at Keeneland. Favorite Tale tried this race in 2014 and disappointed with a fifth-place finish at a shorter price. The last victory he sports on the page came November of 2015 at Penn National and even though his resume is to be respected, and that improvement second-off-the-layoff should be expected, he looks to be part of a speed brigade that could take quite a toll and prove his ultimate undoing through the grind of the stretch; adds fuel to the fire early on.