For Ivan Fallunovalot, it was a first. For jockey Calvin Borel, it was a return to his old self.
The veteran gelding and his Hall of Fame rider teamed up to solidify their respective form in emphatic fashion Nov. 19, drawing off handily from multiple graded stakes winner X Y Jet in the lane en route to a 4 1/2 length win in the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes (gr. III) at Laurel Park.
In the 24th start of his career, Lewis E. Mathews Jr.'s Ivan Fallunovalot collected his first graded stakes triumph and stretched his current win streak to four. While the 6-year-old Valid Expectations gelding notched that distinction, Borel celebrated a mini milestone in his own right, as the De Francis Dash marked his first graded stakes win since returning from a five-month retirement in late August and first graded victory since taking the 2014 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) aboard El Kabeir.
"This is my first stakes win since coming back on a Thoroughbred," Borel said. "I won an Arabian stakes at Churchill earlier this year. It's been awhile since we were at Laurel."
Though multiple graded stakes winner Stallwalkin Dude scratched out of the six-furlong De Francis Dash in favor of an expected start in the Nov. 24 Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack, the race set up as suggested on paper with 1-5 favorite X Y Jet racing to the front out of post 8 and cutting fractions of :22.34 and :45.79, with Ivan Fallunovalot rating second just off his flank.
When X Y Jet gave way coming off the final turn, in what was just his second start since returning from having surgery to remove a knee chip, Borel took a quick look behind him and gave his mount a few right-handed taps before cruising under the wire in a final time of 1:10.07 over a fast track.
"We broke a tad slower than usual for him," Borel said. "I got him in the race early and went really slow. We backed it up a lot. I just let him go up to him and the best horse that's going to finish is going to win. That's what it amounted to."
Trained by W. T. Howard, Ivan Fallunovalot paid $8.20, $3.60, and $2.10 across the board.
Bred in Texas by Eileen H. Hartis, Ivan Fallunovalot improved his record to 15 wins from 24 starts with $800,808 in earnings. He was slated to start in the Nov. 5 TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) but had to miss that outing due to chronic hoof issues, and is now on track to shoot for his third straight victory in the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park in January.
"We had to pass the Breeders' Cup due to quarter cracks, but everything fell into place for this race," said Howard, who claimed the gelding for $25,000 out of a win at Oaklawn in March of 2014. "This will set us up good for Oaklawn."