Mark Hopkins' A Huevo, a 7-year-old gelding making just his seventh career start, came with a rush from the outside near the sixteenth pole to register an upset of odds-on choice Shake You Down in the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I) at Laurel Park Saturday.
Trained by Michael Dickinson and ridden by Ramon Dominguez, the West Virginia-bred bay by Cool Joe came from last in the field of 10, sweeping six-wide into the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. He completed the six-furlong De Francis – which was his first stakes appearance – in 1:08 4/5 on a fast track at odds of 9-1.
Shake You Down, the 4-5 favorite ridden by Mike Luzzi, nipped Gators N Bears and Rick Wilson by a nose to hang on for second.
Shake You Down was never able to get a clear lead after tracking Crossing Point through swift fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 2/5. Shake You Down finaly got to the front in the stretch after five furlongs in :56 3/5. But Gators N Bears, on his outside and Way to the Top, moving between horses, were closing in quickly when A Huevo came flying down the center of the course.
Dominguez said patience paid off for A Huevo's connections.
"They definitely knew what they had. The first time I breezed him they made me wear a radio so they could keep me informed of how fast I was going," Dominguez said. "I had never been on a horse as deceiving as him. I literally felt like we were in an open gallop and he was reeling off racehorse fractions. I don't want to sound too confident, but it's strictly a compliment when I say I felt we were the best horse the minute I sat on his back."
After winning the West Virginia Breeders' Cup Stakes at Charles Town in October of 1999, A Huevo was off the track until a seventh-place finish in his return engagement at Mountaineer Aug. 9. He won an optional claiming allowance Sept. 21 at Delaware by two lengths in his last outing.
"He won at Charles Town four years ago and we broke him down there," Dickinson said. "It's a tight track and it was a sloppy track and he came out with a suspensory and four chips in his knees. We gave him two years off and we brought him back and he was lame and we gave him another year off and he was still lame. This year after his first breeze he went lame.
"Mr. Hopkins said maybe we should give him away to a good home but my assistant Joan said, 'no he's too good a horse' so we weren't going to give up. We stood him in his stall for three days and walked him for three days and he came right back. Since then he's never looked back and we've kept going with him because he's a gelding and because he's a good horse."
Owner Hopkins added, "This might just be Michael Dickinson's greatest achievement. It is mind-boggling what we went through with this horse. I have no idea what we'll do with him but hopefully it will be half as spectacular as this was."
The victory, the fifth of his career, was worth $180,000 and pushed his career earnings to more than $250,000.
He paid $20.60, $6 and $3. Shake You Down, who was third in last month's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), returned $2.80 and $2.10. Gators N Bears showed for $2.60.
Shake You Down is trained by the nation's leading trainer in wins, Scott Lake.
"He ran huge. Not taking anything away from the winner but I don't think we ran our best race. He has had a hard campaign and is a little knocked out. We'll probably give him a little time off but he's had a great year."
Luzzi agreed. "He tried hard. He did stumble but recovered and we got in the position we wanted and we just got beat by a fresher horse. He gave me all he had but he might be a tad tired. He was a tough third three weeks ago in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and that might have taken something out of him."
A crowd of 12,068 attended the Fall Festival of Racing. The overall handle was $6,539,268, a record for the 14-year history of De Francis Dash day. The handle on Laurel's 10-race card was nearly $1.6 million better than a year ago.