09/16/2017 7:36PM

Chublicious brushes aside trainer switch in De Francis

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Chublicious got up late to win the De Francis Dash on Saturday at Laurel.

LAUREL, Md. - Owner David Gruskos had pointed Chublicious to the De Francis Dash at Laurel Park for some time. He just thought Jorge Navarro would be his trainer, not Claudio Gonzalez.

On Saturday, Chublicious won the Frank J. De Francis Dash as the longest shot on the board, paying $22.40 in a four-horse field. Gruskos was not surprised, but nearly everybody else was.

"I thought he would win," Gruskos said. "This horse has been running 1:08's for a year.

On Wednesday, when entries were taken for the Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, Navarro did not enter Chublicious after learning his entries would not be accepted at Laurel because of the fallout from a video on YouTube. The video shows him and one his owners in the Monmouth Park clubhouse making inappropriate comments following the simulcast of an Aug. 4 race at Gulfstream Park that his brother, trainer Marcial Navarro, won.

Navarro was fined $5,000 by the Monmouth stewards and his case was referred to the New Jersey Racing Commission, which may increase his fine at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the Stronach Group, which owns Laurel, was "uncomfortable taking Navarro's entries while the matter in New Jersey was still pending."

Instead of sitting out the De Francis, Gruskos transferred Chublicious to Gonzalez, who also trains for him. The horse was shipped from Navarro's stable to Gonzalez's on Thursday.

The Maryland Jockey Club allowed the transfer, according to Sinatra, because Gonzalez has other horses for Gruskos and following the conclusion of last year's Monmouth meet, Chublicious was transferred from Navarro to Gonzalez and made three starts for him over the winter. The horse was scheduled to be shipped back to Gonzalez this year, but the date was moved up. Chublicious will be staying in Gonzalez's stable.

Gruskos said Saturday he now has three horses with Gonzalez and two with Navarro.

The transfer was overseen by the stewards and the Maryland Racing Commission.

"I am happy he won, but I really can't take any credit for the win," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez admits he was apprehensive when he was asked to take Chublicious so soon before a race because he immediately became the absolute insurer for the horse.

After talking to the horse's veterinarian, Bernie Dowd, and Gruskos, Gonzalez agreed to the transfer.

"I have known Bernie Dowd and David Gruskos for 20 years," Gonzalez said. "I have known them since I was galloping horses for Bennie Perkins."

Still, the transfer of Chublicious upset others who had horses in the De Francis, including Robert Cole Jr., who voiced his displeasure with the situation Wednesday evening. Cole is the owner of Blu Moon Ace, who finished second to Chublicious, beaten a neck.

Whitmore was a heavy favorite in the De Francis, which scratched down from seven horses to four on race day.

When the gates opened, Blu Moon Ace set the early pace in the six-furlong race outside Awesome Banner. Chublicious raced several lengths back with Whitmore to his inside.

Blu Moon Ace drew clear on the far turn. Chublicious went to the better part of the track outside of horses for the stretch run while Whitmore stayed to the rail. Chublicious got up late to win in 1:08.75. It was 1 1/2 lengths back from Blu Moon Ace to Whitmore.

Whitmore was making his first start since June for trainer Ron Moquett, who is pointing him to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 4.

"He ran all right, but there's room for improvement," Moquett said. "Obviously, we wanted to win this race."

Moquett said Whitmore, who had a five-race winning streak broken when he finished fifth in the Grade 2 True North on June 10, could make his next start in the Grade 2, $250,000 Phoenix, a six-furlong race at Keeneland on Oct. 6.

"We'll just go on with it," Moquett said. "Our main goal is the Breeders' Cup."