11/19/2005 1:00AM

I'm the Tiger dashing in De Francis

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Front-running I'm the Tiger, with Jerry Bailey riding, cruises to victory by 3 1/4 lengths in Saturday's Grade 1 De Francis Dash.

LAUREL, Md. - I'm the Tiger wasn't nominated to the Breeders' Cup, so even though trainer Bobby Frankel thinks highly of the 5-year-old gelding, he needed to find someplace other than the BC Sprint to run him this fall.

The $300,000 turned out to be a pretty nice consolation prize for both Frankel and I'm the Tiger.

Allowed to make an uncontested lead under jockey Jerry Bailey, I'm the Tiger ($8.40) set sensible fractions and cruised to a 3 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 De Francis on Saturday at Laurel Park. It was the third of three stakes winners for Bailey on the card and his third De Francis victory. He previously won with Yes It's True in 2000 and Delaware Township in 2002.

Tiger Heart, the 2-1 favorite in a full field of 14 older sprinters, finished second, a half-length in front of 48-1 longshot Clever Electrician.

John Velazquez, who needed to finish at least second to set a single season earnings record by a North American-based jockey, checked in fourth with Friendly Island.

I'm the Tiger, who covered the distance on a fast track in 1:09.06 after setting early fractions of 22.67 and 45.46 seconds, was part of Frankel's substantial string of Frank Stronach-owned horses in Canada until coming to Saratoga in August.

"I never saw him until he came down from Canada," said Frankel, who estimated he has 20 to 25 Stronach horses in the United States and an additional 25 north of the border at Woodbine.

"He's a pretty sound horse and a very nice horse. There's really not that much separating him and the horses that ran in the Breeders' Cup. He's one of the best sprinters, definitely in the top five this year."

I'm the Tiger's task was made a little easier with Friday's scratch of the speedy Attila's Storm, the fourth-place finisher in the BC Sprint who is scheduled to run in the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving Day.

Although I'm the Tiger had come from slightly off the pace in finishing second in the Grade 2 Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and fifth in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont last month, the absence of any real speedballs gave Bailey the option of gunning from the gate.

"I just told Jerry that he's pretty good breaking from the gate and left the rest up to him," said Frankel.

Because he has run just four times this year, I'm the Tiger is still a fresh horse this late in the season and won't need an extended break. Frankel said he plans to take I'm the Tiger to Southern California and look for an appropriate spot, though he has no specific race in mind.

The 10,904 fans at Laurel bet $1,363,048. The overall handle of $4,748,711 was a record for the 16-year history of De Francis Dash Day.