Robert Cole Jr.'s Shake You Down, a former claimer who now competes at the top level of the game, heads a field of 10 in Saturday's $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I). The 4-5 morning line choice might be the most accomplished entry in the field, but he still has an assortment of sharp sprinters to contend with.
When Laurel Park trainer Luigi Gino made a foray into New York to test the son of Montbrook against $65,000 claiming company, Shake You Down was promptly haltered by Scott Lake, the nation's leading conditioner. A little less than 30 days after joining Team Lake, Shake You Down went on a tear, winning five straight, including a grade II and a pair of grade III's. Three weeks ago he went to post as second choice in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Santa Anita and finished a gritty third.
Former Maryland-based jockey Mike Luzzi will ride the chestnut gelding, who will carry highweight of 123 pounds. Although based at this facility for two years, Shake You Down is winless in eight starts at Laurel Park. Lake believes his star should not have any problems re-adjusting.
"I'm sure it is a little advantage for him," said Lake, who last week became the first conditioner in history to produce two 400-win campaigns. "He's run over the track and going in and not handling the surface is not a big worry. Luzzi obviously knows Laurel so it gives us an edge."
With a win Shake You Down could become the fourth Eclipse Award winner for top sprinter after capturing the De Francis Dash during his championship year, joining Housebuster (1991), Cherokee Run ('94) and Smoke Glacken ('97). Shake You Down's sire won the 1993 running of this race.
"My horse is ready to run," added Lake, who seeking his first grade I victory. "He came out of the race absolutely perfect."
Owner-trainer Leo Nechamkin will start Gators N Bears (6-1), the only 3-year-old in the field but a three-time winner at Laurel, his home surface. Gators N Bears has won five times this year, including three stakes and comes into the race off a victory in the Sonny Hine Stakes four weeks ago. Rick Wilson retains the mount.
Another New York shipper is Sanford Goldfarb's Aggadan (8-1), who took second money in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr .I) at Belmont Park in late September. Edgar Prado has been tabbed to ride the Carnivalay colt for trainer Richard Dutrow. Prado won aboard the Maryland-bred twice this summer.
Richard Englander's Boston Common (10-1) prepped for the De Francis with a driving win at Laurel Park on Halloween, beating a competitive band of sprinters. Michael Pino trains the gelded son of Boston Harbor, who ran sixth in the De Francis Dash in 2002. Jorge Chavez will ride.
An interesting entrant is Mark Hopkins' A Huevo (12-1), a Michael Dickinson trainee who was out of action from October 1999 until August of this year. His record before his absence was three wins in four starts. In his second start off the long layoff he won an allowance test at Delaware Park. Ramon Dominguez has the mount.
"He's an extremely talented horse," said Dominguez. "Last time out I didn't think he was at his best and he still ran an amazing race. There looks to be a lot of speed in the race which will benefit him. He is a big, versatile horse who likes to come from behind. I really like this horse."
Clark and Heyman's Crossing Point (12-1) always seems to have his head in front at some point in all of his starts. Based at Laurel Park under the care of Ben Feliciano Jr., Crossing Point is expected to rocket to the lead again under his regular rider Mario Pino.
Starting from the outside post is Michael Gill's Highway Prospector (12-1), who finished a strong third in the Sporting Page Handicap (gr. III) in his last start. Another former claimer, the 6-year old finished just a neck behind Shake You Down on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) undercard. Abel Castellano will be in the irons for trainer Mark Shuman.