07/07/2017 12:46PM

De Francis Dash moved to September, new stakes join fall lineup


The Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash will move from its mid-November spot on the calendar to mid-September at the Laurel Park fall meet. The $250,000 De Francis Dash is part of a 44-race stakes schedule that has a total value of $4.42 million, an increase of $250,000 from a year ago.

The 60-day season will begin Sept. 8 and continue through the end of the year. On Nov. 11, the recently retired Ben’s Cat, a four-time Maryland Horse of the Year, will be honored. Six stakes are scheduled for that day.

The six-furlong De Francis Dash is one of seven stakes Laurel will host Sept. 16. The De Francis Dash has been run in November the past three years. It was held in September in 2013 and in October in 2011 and 2012.

The De Francis Dash was moved so that it would not conflict with the $200,000 Fabulous Strike at Penn National and the $200,000 Fall Highweight at Aqueduct, according to Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Last year, all three races were run during a five-day period.

“A year ago, Penn National and NYRA had a sprint stakes the same week, so we moved it,” Sinatra said. “We’ve positioned it seven weeks before the Breeders’ Cup, and maybe we’ll get someone prepping for the Sprint. We’re hoping to get a better field.”

The De Francis card also will include six turf stakes topped by the $150,000 All Along, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for fillies and mares that was previously named the Lady Baltimore. The All Along was run at Laurel from 1985-89 and 1991-96, at Delaware Park in 1997, and at the now-defunct Colonial Downs from 1998 to 2013. The All Along was held at Pimlico in 1990.

“The race hadn’t been run and had lost its grade, so we’ve taken it back,” Sinatra said.

The Grade 2, $200,000 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup tops an eight-stakes day Sept. 30. That race was previously named the Commonwealth Turf Cup. Its distance has been shortened this year from 1 1/8 miles to one mile.

The card also will include a pair of Grade 3 turf races for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, the Commonwealth Derby and Oaks, plus five stakes for Virginia-bred or -sired horses. The Derby and Oaks are sponsored by the Virginia Equine Alliance and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Maryland Million Day is slated for Oct. 21. Two new $50,000 turf-starter stakes have been added to the schedule, bringing the total number of Maryland Million races to 11.

Other multiple-stakes dates include Dec. 9, which has four stakes, and Dec. 30, when six stakes will be run.

The Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes, which are part of the Sept. 16 program, have had their purses increased by $25,000 each to $100,000. The distances of both races have been increased from 5 1/2 furlongs on turf to six furlongs.

The Sept. 16 card also will include a new stakes, the $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash at six furlongs. Its male equivalent, the Laurel Dash, will be held the same day.

In another name change, the Marylander Stakes is now the Heft Stakes, in honor of Arnold Heft, the late Maryland horse owner and co-owner of the old Baltimore Bullets NBA team.