De Francis Memorial Dash highlights stakes-filled Laurel card

A $1.1 million, six-stakes bonanza awaits fans and bettors at Laurel's Fall Festival of Racing on Saturday, highlighted by the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash for older horses over six furlongs.

With the exception of the long dormant Washington D.C. International, virtually every race that made the Maryland track famous will be revived in some form or another Saturday. The remaining stakes, all of which carry purses of $150,000 and are contested on turf, carry such venerable names as the Laurel Futurity, Selima and Laurel Turf Cup.

The De Francis Dash has attracted a competitive field of 11, with favoritism likely to fall on either multiple Grade 3 winner Pacific Ocean or Grade 1 veteran Sean Avery. An impressive winner of the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood a year ago, Pacific Ocean has enjoyed mixed success since joining the Rick Dutrow barn this year. Sandwiched between two unplaced finishes in the Grade 1 Forego and Grade 2 True North Handicap was a wire-to-wire victory going seven furlongs in the Grade 3 James Marvin on Saratoga's opening day.

Sidelined 13 months following an upset in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap in August 2011, Sean Avery got back to the races in the September 8 Affiliate at Belmont Park. The six-year-old gelding tracked in third before rallying for a 2 1/4-length score in the six-furlong overnight stakes, but disappointed in his follow-up in the Grade 1 Vosburgh where he retreated to fifth behind his less heralded entrymate The Lumber Guy.

Royal Currier, a multiple stakes winner throughout the mid-Atlantic, was third to Sean Avery in the Affiliate in his most recent start and should be prominently placed near the front. The Red Bullet gelding had won four of his previous five starts prior to the Affiliate, and enters off a bullet gate work at Monmouth Park on Monday.   

Others who figure to attract support are multiple stakes winner Immortal Eyes, the 2011 De Francis Dash runner-up; Action Andy, a multiple stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs last winter and most recently victorious in the Maryland Million Sprint; the three-year-old Alsvid, who exits two stakes wins against his elders at Remington Park; and multiple stakes winners Sloane Ranger and Il Villano.

Noted turf sprinter Ben's Cat is back to defend his title in the six-furlong Laurel Dash, a race that had to be moved to the main track due to inclement weather last year. The King Leatherbury trainee is undefeated in five starts on the Laurel turf, and has garnered trophies this season in the Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap, Parx Dash and Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

Others of note in the Laurel Dash are Grade 3 Jaipur hero Upgrade, three-year-old filly Jazzy Idea, course specialists Super Chunky and Night Officer, and the 10-year-old warrior Heros Reward.

The Lady Baltimore, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, features Grade 1 veteran Hooh Why, Grade 3 Matchmaker winner Laughing, Grade 3 Noble Damsel heroine Naples Bay, Grade 3 Eatontown winner Silver Screamer, and the Grade 3-placed Shimmering Moment, Embarr and Federation.

The Laurel Turf Cup, at 1 1/2 miles, has attracted the likes of Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile third Slip and Drive, Italian Group 3 winner Lake Drop, Maryland Million Turf conqueror Roadhog, and local stakes scorer See Tobe, most recently second in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker at Belmont.

No longer championship quality events for juveniles at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt, the Laurel Futurity and Selima, for fillies, are now run at 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass. As expected given the conditions, both races attracted overflow fields with multiple also-eligibles.

The most accomplished starters in the Laurel Futurity are Tyro hero Rip Roarin Ritchie and Maryland Million Nursery victor Keep Momma Happy. Sorority winner Doubled, Tippett vixen Zip Cash Back, and New York invaders Discreet Marq and Heating to Toga should be among the favorites in the Selima.

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