11/24/2007 12:00AM

Benny the Bull best in De Francis Dash

EmailLAUREL, Md. - Officially, Saturday was the Fall Festival of Racing at Laurel Park. It turned out, however, to be Edgar Prado Day.

Returning to Maryland, where he established himself as a top-notch jockey before moving to New York in 1999, Prado rode four winners on the 10-race card, highlighted by a 1 1/4-length score aboard stretch-runner Benny the Bull in the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Prado, who some 30 minutes earlier captured the $105,000 Laurel Futurity with Cowboy Cal, was

riding Benny the Bull for the first time. Unlike in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, where he fell far back early and rallied mildly to get fourth, Benny the Bull ($4.60) stayed relatively close, sitting just 2 1/2 lengths behind pacesetter Talent Search through a half-mile in 45.72 seconds.

Prado took Benny the Bull four wide entering the stretch and the

4-year-old son of Lucky Lionel put his head in front at the sixteenth pole and edged clear late, completing the six furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.86. Talent Search, the 9-5 second choice who had finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Benny the Bull when third in the BC Sprint, held second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of the filly Miraculous Miss.

"He did it all on his own," Prado said. "I encouraged my horse, but I didn't really beat him up. I saved something for the end."

The Grade 1 Dash was Benny the Bull's first graded stakes victory and gave trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. a win in the same stakes his father, the late Dick Dutrow, won twice.

"We expected this kind of race in the Breeders' Cup," said Mike Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables, which bought controlling interest in Benny the Bull from Greg James about four months ago. "But he caught a sloppy, deep track and he found himself about 20 lengths behind. Today, I saw him range up and by the eighth pole I said 'we were in good shape here.' "

Iavarone, whose syndicate won last month's Breeders' Cup Mile with Kip Deville, said Benny the Bull could be pointed to the Sunshine Millions Sprint in January.