Full Fields Featured in Laurel's Fall Festival

(from Laurel Park report)
The $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (Grade I) is the headline event of Saturday's "Fall Festival of Racing" at Laurel Park, but the day also features seven additional stakes races. A total of 132 horses are entered in the 10-race card, including 107 in the added money races.

Trainer Tim Tullock decided to scratch Sensibly Chic from the De Francis Dash and instead will attempt to defend her title in the Stefanita Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor  won the What A Summer Stakes at Laurel and the Vagrancy (gr. II) at Belmont and was runner-up in four other graded races, including the Barbara Fritchie (gr. II). She has been established as the 9-5 favorite in the $75,000 race with John Velazquez, the nation's leading rider based on earnings, in the saddle.

"At the end of the day this made the most sense," Tullock said. "I don't think she was overmatched in the Dash, but she wasn't a standout either and she is a standout in the Stefanita."

The $125,000 Laurel Futurity garnered a full field of 14 2-year old colts and geldings for the 1 1/16-mile race, including Wedding Singer, the 5-2 morning line choice from the Todd Pletcher stable. Velazquez, Pletcher's regular rider, has the mount. The race has been shifted from the dirt to the turf to use the new grass course and thus has lost its grade III status. The race was conducted on the grass six times in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"He worked very well over the grass at Saratoga and just looked like a turf horse," Pletcher said. "He's never been a quick gate horse. We hope he'll do his best running from a stalking position."

The Maryland Jockey Club also moved the historic $125,000 Selima Stakes from the dirt to turf with success. A full field of 14 2-year old fillies will test the Laurel grass at 1 1/16 miles. The race was conducted on the grass five times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. J'ray, also conditioned by Pletcher, is the 2-1 morning line choice. The daughter of Distant View won the $100,000 Jessamine County Stakes at Keeneland last month and will get the riding services of Jerry Bailey.

"This horse has a top-and-bottom turf pedigree," added Pletcher. "She's definitely found a home on the grass. We were impressed that she was able to win an open-company stake at Keeneland last month. She handles the surface very well."

Laurel Park is bringing back a pair of $75,000 nine-furlong turf staples Saturday. Sixteen grass specialists were entered for both the Laurel Turf Cup, a grade III event from 1985-2000, and the April Run Stakes for fillies and mares, which was last run in 2001. Fourteen can face the starter.

Battle Chant, who took the $150,000 John Schapiro Breeders' Cup in September, is the 2-1 choice in the Turf Cup. The 5-year old son of Coronado's Quest was fifth in the Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont, 2-1/2 lengths behind the winner. Edgar Prado, who was aboard in New York, retains the ride.

"That was a very competitive race and he ran well to be fifth," said trainer Graham Motion. "The [slow] pace didn't help matters and he was stopped a bit heading into the stretch but I was satisfied with the effort."

Joyful Chaos, a winner of two straight including a minor added money race at Aqueduct, is the tepid 7-2 morning line favorite for the wide-open April Run. Ramon Dominguez will be in the irons for trainer Christophe Clement.

Trickle of Gold, who has rattled off five straight wins after finishing second in her 2005 debut, is the solid 3-2 morning line choice for the $100,000 Anne Arundel Stakes, a mile test for 3-year old fillies. Jeremy Rose, who has guided the daughter of Formal Gold to victory the last four times, including the Safely Kept (gr. III) at Laurel, will be aboard.