Headley & Molasky's Kona Gold heads a field of seven in the $300,000 grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on Saturday. Eclipse Award honors in the sprint division hinge on the outcome.The 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th finishers from last month's grade I Breeders' Cup Sprint will meet three others in the final grade I, six furlong contest of 2001. Post time for the Dash, the ninth race on a ten race card which includes five others stakes, is 4:06 p.m. Kona Gold, 7th in the Breeders' Cup as favorite, has been listed as the 3-2 choice in the De Francis. The 7-year-old son of Java Gold, who is trained by Bruce Headley, will be ridden by Alex Solis. Solis rode Kona Gold through his championship campaign in 2000. This year Kona Gold has won three of six starts, including the grade I San Carlos Handicap and two other grade II tallies, all in California. Headley said, "I like the seven post (extreme outside). That is where we wanted to be. Everyone's saying the winner of this race wins the Eclipse Award and for a while we were thinking Kona Gold was a horse of the year candidate. But after the Breeders' Cup performance, people were questioning his abilities and my training methods." Headley added, "We wanted to be closer to Xtra Heat a few weeks ago, but it didn't happen so we changed our training approach, working him short quick eighths for this one and we plan on being right with the filly on Saturday."Kenneth Taylor, Harry Dietchman and John Salzman's 3-year-old filly sensation Xtra Heat, a surprising 2nd in the Breeders' Cup after leading to the furlong marker, is listed at 2-1 as the second choice on Saturday. That start was her first try ever against males. The Xtra Heat, a $5,000 purchase at the Timonium sales, has won 17 of 21 starts and $1,241,150, a remarkable return on investment. No rider has yet been named by Laurel Park-based trainer John Salzman.Salzman said, "The horses coming from California are the best in the country. The main concern is figuring out how to beat them. I'm sure they're going to know that she's pretty sudden away from that gate and they're going to try a little harder. They're not going to throw their hands up in the air and let me go. But she runs hard. She'll run her race. She's training terrific. She couldn't train any better than what she's done."McArthur & Chapman's Caller One arrived Tuesday afternoon for the De Francis showdown on the same flight as Kona Gold. Caller One finished 3rd in the Breeders' Cup, after chasing Xtra Heat every step of the way. David Flores picks up the mount on the James Chapman trained Phone Trick colt, who has won 9 of 16 starts. Caller One is listed as third choice at 7-2. Chapman said, "If we win the De Francis Dash, we are still going to come back next month to try and secure the Eclipse Award, but right now this is the biggest race of the year for us. I like where we are (in the five post) and he'll break and run big. He's fresh and traveled well, so we will not have any excuses."
Sixth in the Breeders' Cup was New Farm's Delaware Township, who last raced at Laurel Park in February in the grade II General George, where he finished 2nd. A winner of 10 of 20 starts, Delaware Township will be ridden by Jerry Bailey for trainer Ben Perkins Jr.John Rotella's Say Florida Sandy, a $1,750,925 winner of 28 starts, will be stirred into the De Francis mix by trainer Juan Serey. Laurel's leading rider Ramon Dominguez will take up the reins on the seven-year-old son of Personal Flag. Another who took the flight from California on Tuesday with hopes for a grade I victory is Verne Winchell's lightly raced Early Flyer, a winner of three of seven starts, all in California. Early Flyer, a Ron McAnally trainee, has not started since May 28th. Chris McCarron, who cut his teeth on the Maryland circuit before going on to Hall Of Fame status on the west coast, is named to ride. Wilton Scott's Boots On Sunday completes the line-up. An 11 time winner, this will be Boots On Sunday's second foray out of Texas this year. He finished 4th in the Arlington Sprint Handicap in August. Regular rider Roman Chapa retains the mount for trainer Dan Pish.