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De Francis Dash Headlines Saturday’s Four Laurel Park Stakes
Horse racing returns to Laurel Park (Credit: Maryland Jockey Club)

De Francis Dash Headlines Saturday’s Four Laurel Park Stakes

LAUREL, MD – Saturday’s 30th running of the 6-furlong $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses on Laurel Park’s 11-race program that are all part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

The four races include the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up, also at 6 furlongs, and a pair of $100,000 stakes going 1 mile – the Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and the Twixt for females 3 and older. First race post time is 12:40 PM.

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Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables’ Wondrwherecraigis enters the De Francis off front-running scores, both at 6 furlongs, in a July optional claiming allowance at historic Pimlico Race Course and the Tale of the Cat August 13 at Saratoga, by 8 1/2 combined lengths.

The 4-year-old Munnings gelding has breezed twice since over Laurel’s newly reconstructed main track, most recently going a 1/2-mile in 49 seconds Sept. 11. He broke his maiden and won an open allowance last spring to start his career in his previous Laurel races.

“It’s a new surface and he’s been training right along on it, so hopefully he runs as well as he did before,” trainer Brittany Russell said. “I think when a horse like this is doing well, you have to take a shot.”

Wondrwherecraigis ran second, beaten a head, in the Gold Fever last June at Belmont Park but was disqualified to third for interference. He made his graded debut running fourth to Yaupon in the Amsterdam (G2) at Saratoga, after which he was given time off. He returned after nearly 9 months with a 3-length triumph May 14 at Pimlico on the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) undercard.

“He ran at Saratoga and I brought him back and kept him in training for a little bit,” Russell said. “He was just banged up. There was nothing specific. He had no specific injury, but who’s to say had we tried to push on that there wouldn’t have been.

“He’s a completely different animal now than he was a year ago, and that’s due to [the owners] letting me kick him out and do the right thing by him,” she added. “He’s been with us for some time, and he’s special to us. He’s a really cool horse around the barn. He’s quite a character, so the fact that he’s gotten so far along in his racing to be thinking about trying to win a graded-stakes with him, that in itself is pretty special.”

Wondrwherecraigis was ridden in all 4 of his local races by Russell’s husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury suffered September 9. Jevian Toledo will be aboard from Post 5 in a field of six.

“You’re going to run against good horses when you’re running in good races,” Brittany Russell said. “He’s faced good horses and he’s been winning the right way. It’s not like he just gets the job done. He holds his own the right way.”

Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen’s Grade 1-placed Jalen Journey will go after his second straight win, eighth overall, and first in a stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. North America’s all-time win leader, Asmussen owns 3 sprint stakes wins in Maryland this year – the May 15 Chick Lang (G3) with Mighty Mischief, July 4 Lite the Fuse with Yaupon, and August 21 Star de Naskra with Jaxon Traveler.

Third in the 2019 Bing Crosby (G1) and fourth in the Pat O’Brien (G2) prior to being sold and moved to Asmussen, Jalen Journey took a 2-race win streak into the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) in March, where he ran 10th behind ill-fated Zenden. The 6-year-old ridgling has won 2 of his last 3 starts, the most recent an 8 1/2-length romp in a third-level optional claiming allowance August 6 at Saratoga, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.67.

“I think he’s progressed pretty strongly since we send him to Dubai. He didn’t really run all that well over there, whether he didn’t handle the trip or what,” Bernsen said. “I think it was more because he was training at Oaklawn Park and they had all those snow problems and it really threw our schedule off for Dubai. They had to cancel the prep race that we had and then they had to walk the horses around the barn for 11 days so it really set him back. I think he was really short going into Dubai.

“Since he got back from there, he’s really settled in well. His last race at Saratoga was a really, really big run. It was very impressive in a really, really fast time,” he added. “Sometimes these horses just get good. He ships around pretty easily. I would expect him to put in a pretty respectable run.”

Asmussen, winner of the 2018 De Francis and Maryland Sprint (G3) with Switzerland, enlisted Feargal Lynch to ride from Post 2.

“If he repeats what he did in the last race, that would sort of validate who he is,” Bernsen said. “This is a really solid racehorse.”

Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ multiple stakes winner Laki is entered to defend his victory in the 2020 De Francis, held last fall on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico when the stakes schedule was reshuffled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 8-year-old Maryland-bred gelding rallied to take last year’s De Francis by a nose, the first graded triumph for both him and trainer Damon Dilodovico, who also won the De Francis when it was ungraded with Immortal Eyes in 2013.

“That was incredible. My first graded race. You’d like to think you don’t count those things but you start to wonder if you’ll ever get one,” Dilodovico said. “Two years ago, I thought he’d win a number of them. It’s just the way things go. He knocked it out, and it was an exciting race to boot. It was a big day.”

Laki is 11 for 37 lifetime, including 8 for 23 at Laurel, with $831,162 in purse earnings and at least 1 stakes win 5 straight years, a streak he extended in the Frank Y. Whiteley going six furlongs April 24 at Pimlico. Subsequently fifth in the Maryland Sprint (G3), most recently he ran seventh in the Chesapeake Aug. 23 at speed-favoring Colonial Downs.

“He runs against quality horses every go. We were a little disappointed last time at Colonial. His style, it’s not going to be too successful on a track like that but you never know,” Dilodovico said. “He’s been training well this year. I don’t really feel like he doesn’t show up. They all get beat. He tends to circle back every fourth start or so and really launches a good number. Hopefully he’s sitting on one for this.”

Regular rider Horacio Karamanos gets the call from outside Post 6 at topweight of 124 pounds, 4 more than each of his rivals.

RyZan Sun Racing’s Kalu takes a 3-race win streak into the De Francis, his stakes debut. The Godolphin-bred, 5-year-old gelded son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper has won by an average of more than 3 1/2 lengths during that stretch, all at 6 furlongs, a distance where he is 7 for 17 lifetime.

“(The owners are) super game. They just want to have some fun. We figured this was a horse that we could win some races with and hopefully show up on a big day,” trainer Kent Sweezey said. “He’s a fun horse to have. He’s very easy, he’s laid back, he ships well and he travels good. This will be hopefully a good spot for him.”

Sweeney first claimed Kalu for $8,000 in April 2020 before losing him 2 months later for $6,250. He was claimed again for the same price last August before rejoining Sweezey over the winter and finishing first or second in 8 of his next 11 starts.

“I was thinking just the starter (races) would fit him for the next couple years and then his numbers started coming up real good and I said, ‘Let’s think about something cool,’” Sweezey said. “Growing up, I watched stallions win this race. When you go back and look at the stallion register, there are stallions that have won this race. In years past, there have been some really good horses come out of it, not to mention just the history behind Maryland racing and all that. It would be an honor to win a race like that.”

Victor Carrasco will ride Kalu from Post 1.

Trin-Brook Stables, Inc.’s War Tocsin was second to Wondrwherecraigis July 18 at Pimlico. The 5-year-old gelding has been off the board in both of his stakes tries this year, the May 15 Maryland Sprint and 7-furlong Russell Road August 27 at Charles Town.

Terry Overmier’s Whiskey and You also exits the July 18 race, where he was fourth, between a fourth to Yaupon in the Lite the Fuse and fifth to Mucho in the July 31 Challedon at Pimlico, his most recent race. All 4 of his career wins have come at Laurel, including back to back March 21 and April 10.

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