Introduced in 1990, the six-furlong De Francis Dash has been won by champion sprinters Housebuster (1991), Cherokee Run (1994), Smoke Glacken (1997) and Thor’s Echo (2006).
Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator Coley Blind says Bern Identity, Happy My Way, Heaven’s Runway, La Verdad and River Rocks are being pointed to Laurel’s most important race.
Bern Identity won three stakes races in a 35-day period this summer for trainer Kelly Breen, including the Dave’s Friend at Laurel on September 6, before a third place in the Phoenix at Keeneland last month behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week.
“That horse has been here for a week,” Blind said. “He worked a bullet (half-mile in :46) Wednesday morning. Kelly has been looking forward to this race.”
Happy My Way has finished first or second in five of six this year, including a score in the Maryland Sprint Handicap at Pimlico on Preakness Day.
La Verdad has six stakes victories in 10 starts this year and finished second in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel in February.
Ben’s Cat is an intriguing nomination. Though he is famous for being one of the top turf sprinters in the country, the King Leatherbury homebred is no slouch on the main track with 10 victories in 14 races on the dirt, including five stakes wins, and is six-for-seven at the De Francis distance. Overall, the eight-year-old is 27-of-44 lifetime for earnings of $2,205,990.
“I would be surprised if he ran because King has won the Fabulous Strike with (Ben’s Cat) at Penn National the last two years,” Blind said. “I would love to have him but he owns that race and it gives him an extra 11 days coming out of the Maryland Million (October 18). At eight years old you have to pick your spots.”
The Fall Festival of Racing card also features five additional $100,000 stakes races.
The Richard Small for three-year-olds and up drew 45 nominations. The City of Laurel for three-year-olds has 43 nominees. The Safely Kept for three-year-old fillies has 32 nominations. The James Lewis for two-year-olds features 34 nominations. The Smart Halo for two-year-old fillies attracted 30 pre-entries.