10/25/2012 3:16PM

Laurel: Lady Baltimore the most challenging handicapping puzzle on De Francis undercard

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Silver Screamer was claimed for $20,000 out of a win at Saratoga in 2011 and has gone on to become a Grade 3 winner in the Eatontown (above).

Of the 14 fillies and mares entered in the main body of the Lady Baltimore Stakes at Laurel Park, eight have finished first or second in a Grade 3 turf stakes this season. That makes the 1 1/16-mile Lady Baltimore perhaps the most challenging race for handicappers on the Saturday card.

The Lady Baltimore is one of five turf stakes worth $150,000 apiece on a Fall Festival of Racing program topped by the $350,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash on the main track. The Lady Baltimore goes as race 7 on a card that starts at 12:35 p.m. Eastern, 35 minutes earlier than usual.

To further illustrate how evenly matched the fillies and mares are in the Lady Baltimore, six of them are coming off an in-the-money stakes finish. That group includes Embarr and Laughing, the two-three finishers from the Grade 3 Athenia at Belmont Park two weeks ago, and winner Naples Bay and runner-up Silver Screamer from last month’s Grade 3 Noble Damsel at Belmont.

Of that foursome, the 4-year-olds Embarr and Silver Screamer have displayed the most dramatic improvement.

Embarr began her 3-year-old season running for a $16,000 claiming tag at Colonial Downs in June 2011 and was fifth as the favorite in a $16,000 starter allowance at Atlantic City in her second start of 2012. She reeled off three consecutive wins on turf between May and mid-August before finishing seventh in her graded stakes debut in the Noble Damsel. Almost a month later, she outran her 24-1 odds to get second in the Athenia, earning a career-best 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

Silver Screamer was claimed for $20,000 out of a win at Saratoga in 2011. She did not clear her second allowance condition until this May. She proved that victory was no fluke when she followed up by winning the Grade 3 Eatontown at Monmouth. Most recently, Silver Screamer was used up on the front end, going her second quarter-mile in 22.77 seconds, and surrendered the lead in deep stretch to finish third, beaten two lengths, in the Noble Damsel.

Naples Bay is the hot horse, having won her last two starts, including the Noble Damsel with a career-high 92 Beyer Speed Figure. She must carry co-high weight of 124 pounds Saturday, eight more than last time out.

Among the other contenders, Laughing owns a front-running win in the Grade 3 Matchmaker; the 3-year-old Charged Cotton steps up to face open company after beating Maryland-breds in the All Brandy; and Shimmering Moment looks to regain the form that carried her to a pair of Grade 3 placings over the summer.

Elsewhere on the undercard:

◗ Ben’s Cat, 5 for 5 on Laurel’s turf course, figures to be a short price against nine rivals in the six-furlong Laurel Dash (race 8). The 6-year-old Ben’s Cat won last year’s Laurel Dash when it was shifted to the main track and has won $1.2 million, the bulk of it from his 11 wins in 16 starts on grass.

◗ Among the top contenders in the 1 1/2-mile Laurel Turf Cup (race 9) are: Freud’s Honor, second in the $250,000 Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen Association President’s Cup in his first start since he was beaten a length in the 1 1/2-mile East Hanover at Penn National; See Tobe, second in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker and winner of the Japan Racing Association in his two most recent starts; and Lake Drop, a Group 3 winner going 12 furlongs in Italy.

◗ Mystic Love, the beaten 6-5 favorite on dirt in the Maryland Million Lassie, returns to turf, where she won her maiden impressively, in the 5 1/2-furlong Selima for 2-year-old fillies (race 5).

◗ Rip Roaring Ritchie, winner of the Tyro at Monmouth 2 1/2 months ago as the 4-5 favorite, looks imposing in the 5 1/2-furlong Laurel Futurity (race 6).