10/24/2009 10:14AM

De Francis Dash


After a one-year hiatus, the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash will be contested this afternoon at Laurel Park.  Once a stepping-stone for champion sprinters Housebuster (118 Beyer in 1991, beating Safely Kept), Cherokee Run (114 Beyer in 1994), Smoke Glacken (110 Beyer in 1997), and Thor's Echo (112 Beyer in 2006), the De Francis is now a potential victim of the calendar as well as Maryland's reluctance to infuse daily purses with slot revenue.  Carded two weeks before the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, the De Francis remains a Grade 1 race in name only as the creme de la creme of the division opt to run for lots more money, more prestige, and a possible year-end championship at the Breeders' Cup.  

It's sad to see the race lose some of its luster, but perhaps the six-furlong dash can be best-utilized as a prep race for the Cigar Mile, a Grade 1 race around one turn at Aqueduct post-Breeders' Cup.  A move to seven furlongs in the future might attract "tweeners" from the Breeders' Cup (horses that find six furlongs too sharp, and a mile too taxing) as well as aiding "preppers" for the Cigar Mile by only giving them a one-furlong stretchout at Aqueduct.  In an idealistic world, the folks at NYRA could help this race out by partnering with the Maryland Jockey Club in offering a bonus to the horse that sweeps the De Francis and Cigar.  We all know that is an unrealistic hope.

This year's De Francis (Beyer par - 112.06) features Vineyard Haven, a horse that's worn many hats despite only having been to the post six times.  First, he was the precocious dazzler that caught the eye of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel after an impressive debut score at Calder.  Then, he emerged as a potential Triple Crown hopeful after winning the Hopeful at Saratoga, and Champagne at Belmont.  Then, he was the high-priced flop as he floundered under the desert sun of Dubai after being purchased by Godolphin for a price reported to be in the $10 million range.  Now, he's the comeback kid after finishing first in a gut-busting renewal of the King's Bishop at the Spa, only to be disqualified for impeding Capt. Candyman Can in the waning strides. 
While Vineyard Haven certainly looks imposing as the probable betting favorite, there are some obstacles in his path.  He'll face older horses for the first time in his career, and must break from the inside in a race that features other rivals that will battle for Vineyard Haven's customary spot at the head of affairs.  He's most definitely the horse to beat, and perhaps the speed of the speed, but he may be a bit of an underlay. 

I'll take a chance with Ravalo, a veteran that has won 13 of 27 lifetime starts, and has matured from a speed-crazy youngster into a more professional stalker.  While it could be argued that his favorite surface is at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, Ravalo did win a minor stakes race at Belmont in nice fashion last time out, and has the ability to sit just off the pace for high-percentage rider Jeremy Rose.  He's 8-1 on the morning line, but I think his fair odds are about half that.

There are some other interesting horses in the field.  Roaring Lion may be breathing down Vineyard Haven's throat down the backstretch, and the Maryland Million Sprint champion has been perfect since returning from a year-plus layoff in July.  Fleet Valid has won four in a row after being claimed for $14,000 by trainer Scott Volk, and enters this off a pair of stakes wins at Monmouth Park.  True Quality won the Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel in February, but myriad injuries have relegated him to the sidelines for much of the year.  Peace Chant returned from a shoulder injury to run a better-than-it-looks tenth in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga.  Sacred Journey has won three in a row for Tony Dutrow, and the $325,000 yearling-turned-$30,000 claimer seems back on his best game.  Saratoga Russell once showed immense promise earlier in his career.  And then, there's Ah Day, arguably the patriarch of Mid-Atlantic sprinters, a runner that has suffered from numerous injuries, but always seems to return none the worse for wear.  He goes turf-to-dirt, and always has a puncher's chance. 

As always, the DeFrancis seems to come up a salty race.

More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

Back Monday with weekend Beyers, and tons of questions, comments, and pp requests.

Take care,


cayman01 More than 1 year ago
I like the closing kick of the 6 best of the bunch. fast and furious pick: $25 TRI 6/2,3/2,3,4
blackstone More than 1 year ago
S R Vegas Good job! No wonder the Mamba didn't bother you much (just kidding). I'm guessing all of us have done such things, although not with those results. Way to go.
slewofdamascus More than 1 year ago
What I really don't understand with 9yos in good form who are mis-spotted in difficult allowance races is this: who is going to claim them for 50k, anyway? They're 9yo. And at Clm-50k, a horse like My Happiness would likely win for fun. I just can't understand the trepidation, so, I will be making a physical notoation on the whereabouts of this runner's very next race (an owner-trainer note), because if they aren't willing to gamble when it's in their favor, then under what conditions are they willing to drop a good one? Those conditions probably don't exist or exist only in the most unattractive circumstances, when the horse is 1 to 2, for example....I think when you can pin down these types of "tells" and develop little black books on different connections (owner-trainer) you've put yourself ahead of the crowd....in at least one area, anyway. Hopefully, it's part of an overall information gathering strategy. I'm starting today. The process alone is priceless to one's overall handicapping because it produces positive growth (continuing eduation) in the player. As you can see, I've decided to take this game more seriously, take my involvement in it more seriously. I'm 45. It can't be a diversion anymore. It must be part of an overall discipline or I'm shortchanging my life, which I think I have decided not to do anymore. If I only have 10 hours a week to devote, 9 and 1/2 won't be gambling. It's that condition which produces both the feeling of and the results of a mouse on a treadmill - not losing ground, but not really gaining ground either.
Annie More than 1 year ago
I suppose we could add Can'tabury Downs to the list of racetracks. Annie
SR Vegas More than 1 year ago
Ok..no redboarding, just thoughts. .. in HG156 I posted my thoughts & even some after race thoughts. I totally threw out my common sense on the SA downhill. (which is the ONE race I try to focus on) Ex: outside posts do very well, look for quick workouts on the turnaround, & experiance on the course..Yet, all my criteria were favorites, or a 5-1 shot. Instead HG 156 I go for a longshot with speed. ZERO - zilch. BUT...if I had used what Uncle Steve taught me...I would have had a boxed tri/ super. Live and learn... So Monday..SA downhill race #4...I have NO PP's to study, just the entries on DRF. BUT...I THOUGHT about my criteria & gut instinct. 1. Ah, let's see #4 Sweet Sophia ( Katie, in honor of your neice "The Princess Sophie) 2. and then the outside posts 7-8-9. So, this is just in my head thinking...REALLY!...and I don't bother putting this on Formblog..Besides From ME...ICK...who would care. I'm the HG Zero-Zero-Zero- girl. Results...4-7-8-9 #4 Sweet Sophia 10.60 win $1 Exacta (4-7) Paid $25.10 $1 Trifecta (4-7-8) Paid $92.10 $1 Superfecta (4-7-8-9) Paid $330.30 How's that for some Blue Thong intuition. LOL! Do many of you do this?...just see something, think it and it actually turns out in a positive way? as Whackymacky said: in part "It might not be the best way of betting, but.." SR Vegas
Mike A More than 1 year ago
Midwest ED, Arlinton National Cemetery....That is a classic. Mike A
Midwest Ed More than 1 year ago
On the alternative track names, I would add: Arlington National Cemetery Because in my relatively short experience with playing the horses, I have had way too many good wagers/tickets (at least they felt like sure fire locks at the time) go to their final resting place there. Midwest Ed
Stephen King More than 1 year ago
Hi Dan, First, thanks for the great job you do for DRF! Your blog is wonderful -- especially the way you respond to readers comments and requests. I wasn't sure who to ask this question of .. but since you are the keeper of the Disabled List I thought you might be the right person to ask. There was a pretty gruesome scene in the paddock at Golden Gate Fields yesterday (Sunday, 10/25/09) focused upon "Our Reward," who came to the paddock for the 7th race. It did not seem to end well, but there has been no news either locally or on DRF and I was wondering if (1) you know what happened and (2) did it end as badly as it seemed? If you can answer any of that I would be most appreciative ... Peace and Good, stephen
C More than 1 year ago
Keith, "I should have stuck with my original position on Just Jenda and Flashing...I guess they are not improved horses afterall!" And what track was this race run on? How much faith can you put in any result on Keeneland's main track? Walt, "...which if you recall was run in the middle of a monsoonal downpour that dumped 2 1/2 INCHES OF RAIN on Belmont Park in the space of about two hours. NYRA could have actually rated the turf as heavy for the Joe Hirsch and it would have been accurate." Technical point, but that course wasn't "heavy". A heavy course is one where the hooves sink right through the course to the base. It doesn't really happen here and certainly not after 2 1/2 hours of rain.
Mike A More than 1 year ago
I'm under the impression that one of this blog's purposes is to pass along info we've learned over the years so folks can read it and perhaps get something from it. That is the purpose in most things I wrote, not to single out individuals, or to point to mistakes after the fact. It's just to show how I see things and what I've learned over the years. So please, read with an open mind whatever I write and check the ego at the door. Second, I'm going to use two horses as examples, both are horses I'd been watching for, one, some of you mentioned yesterday, the other is one in my book of "next out" horses. They both ran yesterday, I laid off both of them, mostly because of the soft course condition, but as you will read one was for many other reasons. OK....clear mind, willing to listen? Well I can't tell that, but here goes anyway. Sometimes we follow horses because of things we see, trouble in a race they ran, their PP, especially at a 1 1/16m at Belmont wasn't good for their running style, whatever the reason, we believe next out they are a good bet. What we have to realize though is they are not wonder horses and when things are stacked against them we need to lay off. My examples are Mr. Vegas and North Country. Like some of you I saw Mr. Vegas's maiden win, quite impressive. In fact I watched it a few times, you rarely see a horse have that much trouble and still explode through the lane to win. Given the fact that a few horses from that race came back to win, it sure looked like he'd be a good bet next out. This is where you have to look at the race he's entered in and scrutinize. It's as I mentioned to Steve T the other day, sometimes we bet horses in bad situations because we feel they'll overcome all adversity, my experience tells me they won't most of the time. I looked long and hard at Mr. Vegas, I expected a good price and it was a sirens call you could say, but looking at the race this is what I saw. Mr. Vegas won on a good course at Saratoga, a good course that was more firm than soft. Horses who win on good turf doesn't mean they will win on soft turf, in fact my experience tells me they usually don't run well on soft going. There is a big difference between good and soft. A good indicator is to look at the track variant, if it is high it means the course was softer than if it was low, and you can usually tell by the times of the races that day. Mr Vegas ran 5 1/2F in 1:04:1 certainly not slow. Second and one of the most important things at Bel in 1 1/16m races is PP. His breeding told me he'd probably be forwardly placed, being on the extreme outside he'd have to run and gun, especially with Krypton to his outside. On yesterdays surface being on the lead wasn't the place to be. In fact if any horse won a race at the distance on the lead mark them down for next time. So we have a horse that's going from a 5 1/2f MD race, a state bred MD race at SAR to a 1 1/16m race at BEl, a course he'd never been on, and jumped right up to stakes company, running over a soft course he's never been on, with a bad PP, and more than likely going out with Krypton to his outside. To me, with all the negative factors it was a pass race. A wait till next time kind of race. Always remember they are not machines, some horses overcome adversity, most don't, that's why we have legends of the turf. My experience tells me MD breakers usually don't over come adversity, not first out in open company, regardless of how they broke their MD. North Country is a horse that made me some good money last year. He usually pops at SAR. I only bet him once up there and he disappointed me in a stakes race, running 7th but only beaten by 2 3/4. He's a one dimensional closer, saves as much ground as he can and makes his run through the stretch. Horses like that need luck to win and small fields, less traffic the better off they are. North Country had run a good race at the Meadowlands his last out, going off the favorite and losing by a neck. To some it may have looked like he turned a corner, but he's 6, horses usually don't turn the corner at 6. He had won over a good track before, but ran terribly on a soft course, he'd never run back on such short rest, I knew him well enough to see he was a bad bet. I could have thought " maybe today", or if he wins I'll be pissed, but again experience told me he'd run lousy. In fact I fully expected David Duggin his trainer to scratch. Why waste the horses energy in a race he couldn't win. I actually expected them to scratch Mr. Vegas also, but I guess in his case he is only two and to the trainer it's an experiment, even if folks are betting his horse. So, it's always good to do your due diligence, sometimes we need to lay off. Not every horse is Secretariat, and he got beat too. There are no absolutes in racing, if there were we wouldn't have long shot winners, but there are times when things we are betting to happen, happen rarely, very rare actually and we need to see it and bet accordingly. It sometimes can lead to a different approach and can net you a win. AS in the case with NC, I had explained to one of the bloggers that I'd been waiting for that horse to pop. In his last race at Sar. he was entered in a NW1x allowance, being he'd come from a stake his previous race and was blocked in the stretch he went off 9-2. Because I knew him to be a one dimensional closer, I keyed on a different horse, and said I would to the blogger. That horse was Whitely, keyed him with NC and Kinsella. Kinsella won and NC lost second by a nose to Whitely, I won because I knew NC needed every bit of luck to get up, and in a 10 horse field I took a shot he wouldn't. He didn't, by a nose of course, but that's as good as a mile when you bet. We need to recognize when a horse isn't a good bet, backing a horse to do something it's either never done before as in NC or something that time has proven hard to do as in MR. Vegas, is a part of our handicapping as much as picking who we do feel can win. OK that's it carry on. Please as I said, I'm not singling out anyone, it's just something I've learned over the years. Mike A