Vineyard Haven won the 2009 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Vineyard Haven won the 2009 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

De Francis Dash Back on Laurel Calendar

Meet to offer 27 stakes races worth nearly $2.3 million.

The Maryland Jockey Club unveiled the 2011 Laurel Park fall stakes schedule July 29 that includes restoration of the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash after a one-year hiatus.

The MJC said the stakes schedule was approved by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and Maryland Racing Commission July 29.

The 68-day fall meet will begin Sept. 9 and conclude Dec. 17. There will be 27 stakes worth nearly $2.3 million. In addition to the return of the De Francis Dash, the meet is also highlighted by the 26th running of the Jim McKay Maryland Million Oct. 1.

The meet will celebrate 100 years of live racing at Laurel, which opened Oct. 2, 1911.

The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association downgraded the De Francis Dash from grade I to grade II after the 2009 running. The race won't be graded this year because it wasn't run twice in a three-year period: 2008 and 2010.

Introduced in 1986, the Maryland Million is a program for the offspring of Maryland-based stallions. Maryland-sired Thoroughbreds are nominated before they become 2-year-olds and remain eligible for life to run in the Maryland Million races. Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim McKay originally proposed the concept and remained chairman of the board until his death three years ago.

A pair of historic 2-year-old stakes--the Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes--as well as the Laurel Dash, Lady Baltimore Stakes, Japan Racing Association Stakes, Smart Halo Stakes, and Dave’s Friend Stakes will return this year.

“It is important to have open stakes to bolster our daily average purse distribution, which will be $185,000,” MJC president Tom Chuckas said in a statement. “Last year all 19 stakes were for Maryland-bred or Maryland-sired runners. To build the business from a handle standpoint, our races have to be more attractive to the simulcast players.

"Adding the De Francis Dash to the schedule gives us instant credibility, while five of the other seven are scheduled for the turf, and that almost guarantees large fields.”

After a 15-week break that includes seven days of racing at Timonium during the Maryland State Fair, live racing will return to Laurel on a four-days-per-week schedule in September (Wednesday through Saturday). Racing will be offered five days a week in October, November, and December (Tuesday through Saturday).