Ben's Cat is cross-entered in the De Francis Dash and the Laurel Dash Stakes.

Ben's Cat is cross-entered in the De Francis Dash and the Laurel Dash Stakes.

Barbara Weidl/EQUI-PHOTO

Ben's Cat Intriguing Entry in De Francis Dash

Nine runners with long resumes will contest the De Francis Memorial Dash Sept. 21

Nine sprinters, including local star Ben's Cat, have been entered in Laurel Park's 22nd running of the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes Sept. 21.

The De Francis Dash is scheduled as race 10 on Laurel's Fall Festival of Racing card and will be run at approximately 5:53 p.m. EDT.

Owner and trainer King Leatherbury cross-entered The Jim Stable's Ben's Cat, one of the top turf sprinters in the country, in the De Francis Dash and the $100,000 Laurel Dash Stakes, a race he won two years ago. The 7-year-old has won eight of his 12 starts on the dirt, including three stakes scores, though 13 of his last 14 starts have been over the lawn. The son of Parker's Storm Cat has 14 turf stakes wins on his résumé.

"This has been on our radar since last year when the winner didn't run any faster than Ben's Cat has on the dirt," Leatherbury said. "Once we found out it was a full field on the turf, we decided to cross-enter and will handicap the De Francis and have a choice.

"There doesn't appear to be any super horse in the race. Early in his career he ran some big races on the dirt but we decided to keep him on the turf and dodge some of the really top horses on the main track," Leatherbury said. "We can make more money by finishing second in the De Francis than winning the other one, which is a good situation to be in. It will be fun to handicap and see where we end up running."

The 9-2 second choice on the morning line, Ben's Cat will break from post 5.

Sage Valley, a 4-year-old son of Discreet Cat owned by Michael Dubb, is the 9-5 morning line favorite and counts a pair of graded victories to his credit this year, visiting the winners' circle in the May 18 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) card and the July 19 James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course. In his last start, the Rudy Rodriguez trainee was fifth in Saratoga's Forego Stakes (gr. I).

"We are bringing him back a little quickly but he seemed to come out of that race pretty good," Rodriguez said. "I think he should be close to the lead and if he doesn't break well we will be close. It would be nice if he could run as big as he did on Preakness day. He is a very nice-looking, well-bred horse. We are having fun with him and hope that continues."

Cornelio Velasquez will ride Sage Valley from the six hole.

Saturday's Charm has had a consistent 4-year-old campaign for owner Mike McCarty with five in-the-money finishes in seven starts, including a third place finish in the Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III). Rosie Napravnik, who has four career riding titles at Laurel in her career, has the call on 5-1 Saturday's Charm.

Brigand won Laurel Park's Dec. 8 City of Laurel Stakes and crossed the finish line second in the General George Handicap (gr. III) two months later but was placed fifth after bumping another runner early in the race. Since then, the Bob Baffert trainee has been off the board in a pair of starts. Brigand goes out from post 2 at 6-1 on the morning line with Martin Garcia in the irons.

Il Villano lost last year's De Francis Dash by a nose to Action Andy but came back to win the Dec. 29 Dave's Friend Stakes. Out of the money just twice in 14 starts, the De Francis Dash is the 4-year-old Pollard's Vision  colt's first start in seven months since his runner-up effort in the General George Handicap (gr. III). Trained by Susan Crowell for Chuck Russo, 6-1 Il Villano will break from post 6.

Immortal Eyes, 8-1, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Action Andy and Il Villano in last year's De Francis Dash despite nearly going to his knees leaving the starting gate. It was the second close call in the De Francis for the 8-year-old son of Greatness who finished second in the 2011 Dash.

In his eight starts this year for trainer Damon Dilodovico, the seasoned sprinter has amassed four wins including scores in the July 28 Teddy Drone Stakes and the July 7 Mr. Propspector Stakes, both at Monmouth Park. Regular rider Travis Dunkelberger is back in the saddle on 8-1 Immortal Eyes, who drew post 8.

"We are hoping we can get it done for Mr. Abbo (owner Robert Abbo) and Immortal Eyes," Dilodovico said. "Personally I thought he was much the best last year. He broke poorly and ran a huge race. We were disappointed to finish third, but the effort was top-notch.

"He is an exceptional athlete... We love the outside post. He is more versatile than it looks on paper. We could be forwardly-placed or sit back."

Dilodovico will also saddle 10-1 shot Service for Ten. The Service Stripe gelding has finished in-the-money seven times in eight starts since being claimed by owner Mark Lapidus nearly two years ago, with five trips to the winners' circle. Daniel Centeno, who was aboard for a victory in the Aug. 10 Vincent Moscarelli Stakes at Delaware Park in his last start, will ride as the pair breaks from the 3 hole.

"Mark spotted this horse," Dilodovico said. "I was kind of wishy-washy with the claim, but he really wanted him and deserves much of the credit for the success he has had since coming into the barn."

Broad Rule, fifth in the 2012 De Francis Dash, has 11 in-the-money finishes in 16 starts at Laurel, his home track, including a victory in the Jan. 21 Fire Plug Stakes and a third in the General George. Richard Small-trained Broad Rule goes out at 20-1 on the morning line the outside post with Forest Boyce up.

Royal Currier looks to improve on his off-the-board finish in last year's De Francis Dash. The 5-year-old Red Bullet gelding has eight stakes wins under his girth but has yet to score this year in his three previous starts for trainer Joseph Mazza. Breaking from post 4, 30-1 Royal Currier will be ridden by Angel Serpa.

$350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes (Race 10, approximate post time 5:53 p.m. EDT) 3YOs & Up, six furlongs (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, M-L Odds
1. Saturday's Charm (KY), R Napravnik, 118, S M Asmussen, 5-1
2. Brigand (NY), M Garcia, 118, B Baffert, 6-1*
3. Service for Ten (VA), D Centeno, 118, D R Dilodovico, 10-1
4. Royal Currier (FL), A Serpa, 118, J W Mazza, 30-1
5. Ben's Cat (MD), J Pimentel, 118, K T Leatherbury, 9-2
6. Sage Valley (KY), C H Velasquez, 118, R R Rodriguez, 9-5
7. Il Villano (KY), J Pimentel, 118, S L Crowell, 6-1
8. Immortal Eyes (FL), T L Dunkelberger, 118, D R Dilodovico, 8-1
9. Broad Rule (MD), F Boyce, 118, R W Small, 20-1
*Equipment Changes: 2. Brigand: Blinkers On