11/13/2002 12:00AM

He won't be 48-1 again


You would have needed the hindsight of the pick-six schemers to have had Thunderello on your ticket in last month's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Or, just the confidence of trainer Scott Lake.

Thunderello, a 48-1 shot, nearly pulled off the biggest upset in Sprint history when he outfooted some of the fastest horses in the world, only to be caught in deep stretch by favored Orientate, who won the $1 million Sprint by a half-length.

Expectations among the betting public will be much higher for Thunderello on Saturday when he heads an eight-horse field entered in the Grade 1, $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park. A field of eight was entered for the six-furlong De Francis, which closes a 10-race card that features six stakes. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.

When pre-entries were made for the Sprint, Thunderello was the first alternate because he did not earn enough points - or impress a Breeders' Cup selection panel - to crack into the 14-horse field. But an injury to Gygistar provided the opportunity for Thunderello to get in.

Breaking from the rail, Thunderello dueled with Carson Hollow through an opening quarter of 21.53 seconds and opened up a one-length lead over Orientate after a second quarter in 22.38 seconds. Thunderello maintained and slightly increased that lead in the stretch, before giving way grudgingly to Orientate.

"I knew he was that kind of colt the whole time,'' Lake said Wednesday. "He only had five lifetime starts going into it, but I thought he'd run a great race. It was unfortunate he had the one hole.''

Lake said Thunderello had learned to relax in his previous races, but having drawn the rail, there was no other option but to send.

Thunderello drew post 7 in the De Francis, outside of the rest of the speed horses. Because of the way the conditions of the race are written, Thunderello gets in with 114 pounds, eight fewer than co-highweights Avanzado and D'wildcat.

Avanzado is 3 for 3 since coming to this country. He last ran on Oct. 6 when he went gate to wire in the Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont. He was not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and his connections opted not to pay the supplemental fee.

D'wildcat was pre-entered for the Sprint, but did not make the entry box after getting sick. He is 2 for 9 this year, both wins coming via disqualification. Jorge Chavez picks up the mount.

Outstander, Boston Common, Rusty Spur, Deer Run, and Sassy Hound complete the De Francis field.

The return of the Laurel Futurity, a Grade 3 race for juvenile colts and geldings, after a two-year hiatus tops the undercard. Toccet, the Champagne winner, tries to bounce back after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Among his challengers in the $100,000 race run at 1 1/16 miles, will be Soto, an undefeated colt from Michael Dickinson's barn.

Heirloom Diamond heads the $100,000 Selima Stakes for juvenile fillies. Tip the Scale and Case of the Blues battle in the $50,000 Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes. Bruanna, Winter Leaf, and Kimbralata head a 14-horse field entered in the $50,000 Stefanita Stakes. Acrolect is the one to beat in the $50,000 Hail Emperor Stakes.