Palace hoping to rule Frank J. De Francis Dash; sprint stakes highlight Laurel card

November 11th, 2015

Nine runners, including Grade 1 winner Palace, will line up on Saturday at Laurel Park to take part in the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Dash S.

The 24th edition of the three-quarter mile event headlines a six-stakes strong card at Laurel on Saturday, with the other five contests worth $100,000 each. In addition to the De Francis Dash, the track carded the City of Laurel S. and Safely Kept S. sending sophomores seven furlongs; the James F. Lewis III S. and Smart Halo S. for juveniles sprinting six furlongs; and the Richard W. Small S. at nine furlongs for three-year-olds and up.

Palace had his best year in 2014, taking the Forego S. (G1), Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) and True North S. (G2) while placing in the Vosburgh S. (G1) and Belmont Sprint Championship S. (G3). He closed out his five-year-old campaign with a sixth-placing, beaten three lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita Park, and returned in April to be fifth in the Carter H. (G1) at Aqueduct.

In fact, the Linda Rice-trained bay has competed outside of New York just twice in his 27-race career thus far – last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint and a fourth in the General George H. (G3) at Laurel in February 2014.

Palace has raced just four times this season, and improved on each occasion. Following his Carter fifth the New York-bred was third by two lengths in the John Morrissey S. at Saratoga in July, fourth by only a length in the September 26 Vosburgh at Belmont Park, and most recently found the winner’s circle in the Hudson H. at Belmont on October 24.

Palace nearly made a second go at the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint off the seven-day break, but Rice decided to wait for the De Francis Dash.

“We’ve had kind of a difficult year with him. He just could never really get on track,” Rice explained. “He fell out of the gate at Saratoga and got a pretty nasty injury, and it took us quite a while to get him back to the races.

“He ran a nice race in the Vosburgh. He kind of got trapped down inside and still only got beat three-quarters of a length, so I was very happy with his performance there. Then he came back and won the Hudson and got back to his winning ways. We decided not to run in the Breeders’ Cup and point to the De Francis instead.”

This will be Palace’s last season of racing, as he is set to be retired at the end of the year to Spendthrift Farm near Lexington, Kentucky, in January.

“He’s been an absolute pleasure to have,” Rice said. “It’s going to be very hard to let him go, because he’s been part of our stable for quite a while. He’s certainly been very much one of our favorites.”

Among those Palace and jockey Cornelio Velasquez will face in the De Francis Dash are Stallwalkin’ Dude, third by a neck in the Vosburgh two back; last-out Maryland Million Sprint H. victor Jack’s in the Deck; and Trouble Kid, who is riding a four-race win streak that began when he took a maiden claimer by 16 lengths in July and also includes the Gallant Bob S. (G3), Valley Forge S. and a track record at Delaware Park.

In the other stakes action at Laurel on Saturday, El Kabeir wheels back from a three-week break to face eight rivals in the City of Laurel S. The John Terranova II pupil was an early candidate for the Kentucky Derby after taking the Jerome S. (G3) and Gotham S. (G3) while placing in the Withers S. (G3) and Wood Memorial S. (G1), but was forced off the Triple Crown trail due to foot problems after that latter event on April 4.

El Kabeir just returned on October 31 to run a one-paced fifth in the Bold Ruler H. (G3) at Belmont and gets Velasquez back in the irons for this turnaround.

Hot City Girl tops a 12-strong field entered in the Safely Kept S. off romping wire jobs in the Charles Town Oaks (G3) and an allowance/optional claimer at Belmont Park in her past two. Velasquez has the call on this Rice charge as well.

Palace photo courtesy of NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography
El Kabeir photo courtesy of NYRA/Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography