Three-year-old Vineyard Haven, winner of Saratoga's King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I) before being disqualified in his only start in the past eight months, faces older horses for the first time in the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I) at Laurel Park Oct. 24.
Nine are entered in the six-furlong sprint, one of three grade I races contested in Maryland. The De Francis Dash, the ninth on a 10-race program, returns to the Laurel lineup after a one-year hiatus due to a purse account shortfall.
With the connections of Kodiak Kowboy and Fabulous Strike opting not to race three weeks after running first and second in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), Godolphin's talented Vineyard Haven is the 8-5 morning line favorite. Vineyard Haven was dropped from first after a head victory and placed second in the Aug. 29 King's Bishop for drifting out and bumping Capt. Candyman Can in the stretch. The gray son of Lido Palace drew the rail and will carry 116, getting two pounds from the rest of the field.
“He’s had an easy time for a couple of weeks after that race but once he got back at Belmont we gave him a couple of easy half miles and then we had him stride along and he looked great doing that. This morning he went 47 and 1 and I’m very happy with his preparations,” said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. “We think he’s fit, sound, and ready to run another big race. It is not going to be easy from the rail but we are 8-5 in a grade I so we’ll take our chances."
A two-time grade I winner as a 2-year-old, Vineyard Haven recorded a career-best Beyer figure in the King's Bishop. That was his first race since finishing fourth in February's UAE Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-III), his only other start this year for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Fleet Valid (9-2) comes to Laurel off an easy score in the Icecapade Stakes at Monmouth Park on Sept. 7 for his fourth straight win. The 6-year-old son of Montbrook, who won the 1993 De Francis Dash, was claimed by trainer Scott Volk for $14,000 in April.
“This is as good as it gets,” Volk said. “He’s got a lot of back class and for $14,000 you take a chance. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. He’s gotten better every time he’s run for us."
Roaring Lion (6-1) won Laurel's Maryland Million Sprint on Sept. 26. The 5-year-old Lion Hearted gelding has won three straight races since arriving in trainer Bruce Levine’s stable.
“The Maryland Million race was pretty easy on him but he didn’t face the kind of horses he’s going to face this Saturday,” Levine said. “He’s doing super for us but this is going to be his acid test. Our horse gives a great race every time.”
Locally-based Ravalo (8-1) has won nine stakes at the distance for trainer Donald Barr, including the Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) on the Preakness undercard. The son of Mutakddim comes into the race off a victory in the Spooky Mulder Stakes at Belmont Park.
“I feel pretty good about our chances with Fabulous Strike not in the race,” Barr said. “Maybe he isn’t the number one sprinter in the country at the moment but he has been throughout the year. I have tried to steer clear of him, Kodiak Kowboy and the other top sprinters.”
Ravalo has won 13 of 27 career races with 22 in the money finishes for earnings of $712,285. The 5-year-old has run at 11 different tracks and has competed in graded company on four previous occasions.
True Quality (5-1) upset Fabulous Strike in the General George Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel in February. The Elusive Quality colt has run three times since, including off-the-board finishes in the Carter Handicap and Forego Stakes (both gr. I).
The four remaining starters in the field are Ah Day, Peace Chant, Sacred Journey and Saratoga Russell.
$300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I, Race 9, 5:07 p.m.), 3 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Vineyard Haven (FL), A Garcia, 116, S bin Suroor
2. Roaring Lion (MD), E Trujillo, 118, B N Levine
3. Ravalo (KY), J Rose, 118, D H Barr
4. Fleet Valid (FL), P Morales, 118, S J Volk
5. True Quality (KY), C C Lopez, 118, R Sedlacek
6. Peace Chant (KY), J F Chavez, 118, W Phipps
7. Sacred Journey (KY), D Cohen, 118, A W Dutrow
8. Saratoga Russell (FL), C Hill, 118, M E Hushion
9. Ah Day (MD), S Russell, 118, K T Leatherbury