Frank Stronach's homebred I'm the Tiger pounced on the lead for jockey Jerry Bailey and left his 13 foes well behind in the stretch en route to a surprisingly easy victory in the $300,000 Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash (gr. I) at Laurel Park Saturday.
Bailey was aboard the Bobby Frankel-trained 5-year-old bay gelding for the first time. They completed the six furlongs in 1:09 after carving solid fractions of :22 3/5, :45 2/5 and :57. I'm the Tiger won his first graded stakes race.
It was 3 1/4 lengths back to 2-1 favorite Tiger Heart, who offered only a modest rally in the stretch after rating in good position along the inside for Edgar Prado. Clever Electrician, ridden by Jeremy Rose, closed from well back to finish third, a half-length behind the runner-up, with another New York-bred, Friendly Island, coming on for fourth.
A crowd of 13,433 enjoyed the eight stakes races that comprise the "Fall Festival of Racing" on a bright and sunny afternoon in central Maryland. A total of $4,748,711 was wagerd on the 10-race card at Laurel Park, a record for the 16-year history of De Francis Dash day. The previous record was $4,469,869 set two years ago.
I'm the Tiger, whose seventh win in 16 starts increased his earnings to $581,462, was coming off a fifth-place finish in Belmont Park's Vosburgh (gr. I) in his last start Oct. 1 when he tired in the late stages. The son of Siphon
has spent most of the past two years in Canada before shipping to Saratoga for a runner-up showing in the Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II) prior to the Vosburgh. This was I'm the Tiger's fourth race in 2005. His last victory came in an allowance race at Woodbine in October 2004.
"The last time he ran I don't think I had him right," Frankel said. "This time I thought I had him in good shape. Sometimes they perform the way they act. He outbroke the field and took the lead very easily.
"I had not seen him until he came down from Canada and when I did see him, I knew he was a very nice horse. He is definitely one of the top five sprinters in the country, although I think Lost In The Fog will be sprinter of the year. I will take him to California to see how he does there."
Bailey won his third race of the day. The Hall of Fame rider has won the De Francis Dash two times in the past, with Yes It's True in 1999 and Delaware Township in 2001.
"He ran right up and took command," Bailey said. "I was just sitting on him down the backside. Going around the turn he was just pricking his ears. I gave him some slight urging at the top of the lane and he just won with something left. He was totally in command of this race at every pole."
Prado offered no excuse for Tiger Heart.
"No problems," he said. "We had good position on the rail. We were running hard down the lane. Jerry let his horse go and I couldn't catch him."
The second choice in the bulky field, I'm the Tiger paid $8.40, $4.80 and $3.60. Tiger Heart, also the runner-up in the Vosburgh, returned $4.20 and $3. The 48-1 outsider Clever Electrician's show was $11.60.
After Friendly Island came Saay Mi Name, Elusive Jazz, Who's the Cowboy, Dale's Prospect, Forest Park, Wild Tale, Gold Cluster, Gators N Bears, Abbondanza and Ministers Wild Cat.
It was the final start for local star Gators N Bears. The 5-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic
never got into the fray from his outside starting post and will soon begin his sire career after compiling a record of 10-7-7 in 32 starts with earnings of $804,393.
Owner and trainer Leo Nechamkin noted, "This was his way of telling me, 'It's time.' Everyone wants to go out on top, but this may have been one race too many for him. The rider (Abel Castellano Jr.) told me he never picked up the bit. Today, he didn't have his heart in it. It was a day for Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey."