11/16/2016 2:36PM

Ivan Fallunovalot, X Y Jet invade for De Francis Dash

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Dustin Orona Photography
Ivan Fallunovalot enters the De Francis Dash off his third straight win in the David M. Vance at Remington.

Horsemen with stakes-quality sprinters have plenty of options in the Mid-Atlantic.

On Saturday, the Grade 3, $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash will be run at Laurel Park. On Thanksgiving Eve, the $200,000 Fabulous Strike is on tap at Penn National. And, on the holiday, the Grade 3, $200,000 Fall Highweight will be the feature at Aqueduct. All three races are for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs.

While local trainers will be shopping for the best spot, out-of-towners Tom Howard and Jorge Navarro have committed top contenders to the De Francis Dash.

Navarro has a Wednesday night flight scheduled for X Y Jet, who could be favored in the De Francis, and Sharp Azteca, who will be one of the principals in the City of Laurel, a $100,000 stakes for 3-year-olds.

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Howard trains Ivan Fallunovalot, who arrived at Laurel Park on Tuesday morning by van from Remington Park in Oklahoma City.

“He left Remington on Sunday afternoon and laid over in Lexington,” Howard said. “He got in just fine.”

A 6-year-old gelded son of Valid Expectations, Ivan Fallunovalot has won five of his six starts dating back to August 2015, with his ninth-place finish in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint his only loss during that span. His wins include the last three runnings of the David M. Vance at Remington and the last two editions of the King Cotton at Oaklawn Park.

Howard claimed him on behalf of Arkansas owner Lewis Mathews Jr. for $25,000 out of a win at Oaklawn in March 2014. Ivan Fallunovalot has since won 10 races, $591,000, and is the reigning Texas-bred horse of the year.

“I just try to stay out of his way,” Howard said. “He has some issues and some mileage on him, but he’s honest and gives 100 percent every time. There’s not much else you can ask for.”

Howard, a 68-year-old native of Texas, is married to the former Kathy Moore, who was the leading female rider at Oaklawn when she retired in 1994.

Howard trained on his own in the 1970s before going to work for such respected horsemen as Bubba Cascio, Sam David Jr., Cole Norman, Gene Norman, and J.J. Pletcher, the father of Todd Pletcher. He reopened his own stable in 2003, and makes a circuit of Oaklawn, Lone Star Park, and Remington.

“We’re getting older and we don’t like to get too far from home anymore,” Howard said. “We have a house in Hot Springs. We’re on the lake and have a party barge out back.”

The De Francis will be the first start east of Kentucky for both Howard and Ivan Fallunovalot. Howard said he decided on the De Francis following Ivan Fallunovalot’s victory in the $150,000 Vance on Sept. 25 because “I’d kind of run out of stuff to do with him where we were.”

“The timing was off for the Breeders’ Cup, and this race looked real inviting,” he said.

Before Ivan Fallunovalot boarded his van Sunday, he blew out three furlongs in 33.80 seconds at Remington.

“It was a pretty fast work, but he did it on his own,” Howard said. “The track was superb that morning, and he’ll just do that once in a while. He covers a lot of ground.”

Following Saturday’s race, Ivan Fallunovalot will be Arkansas-bound.

“We’re going to take him to Oaklawn and get him ready for the meet,” Howard said.

Navarro runners coming off setbacks

As for X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca, they have had physical setbacks this year, but look ready to get back on track Saturday at Laurel Park.

X Y Jet had won five straight races, including the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint and Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint, before heading to Dubai in March. He showed the way in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen and finished second, beaten a neck.

He came out of that race with a knee chip that sidelined him until the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park on Oct 1. Navarro had planned to use that six-furlong race as a prep to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but the track came up muddy, Green Gratto pushed X Y Jet through fractions of 21.59 and 44.12, and X Y Jet tired to finish fifth.

“The race came up pretty tough, the track was muddy, and then they went too fast,” Navarro said. “The important thing is he came back good and he’s training really good. He really wasn’t even tired after that race.”

X Y Jet comes into De Francis Dash on Saturday off a pair of bullet works at Gulfstream Park West, including five furlongs in 58 last Saturday.

The City of Laurel, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds, will be the first start for Sharp Azteca since he finished second, beaten a half-length, in the Prelude Stakes at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 6. Navarro brought Sharp Azteca home to Monmouth Park after that race, but he grabbed a quarter and tore off a section of his foot.

“He was back from Louisiana about three days and was galloping near the chute when he reared up and grabbed a quarter,” Navarro said. “It was one of the nastiest quarters I’ve ever seen. I thought he was going to be out for six months, but our blacksmith did a great job with him. It’s perfect now.”

Sharp Azteca showed his quality earlier this year when he won the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day by 2 1/2 lengths.

“I think he’s going to have a big 4-year-old year,” Navarro said.