09/18/2013 4:55PM

Laurel: Sage Valley gets class relief for De Francis Memorial Dash


Sage Valley could make no impact in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga, but he will be widely expected to rebound Saturday at Laurel Park in the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, Sage Valley was among nine horses entered in the six-furlong De Francis when entries were drawn and post positions assigned Wednesday for the Fall Turf Festival, but two horses, Ben’s Cat and Brigand, also hold entries in other races. Ben’s Cat is cross-entered in the $100,000 Laurel Turf Dash earlier on the Saturday card, while Brigand could run instead in a restricted $100,000 race Friday at Belmont Park.

Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, Sage Valley drew post 6 and has Cornelio Velasquez named to ride in the De Francis. Sage Valley’s last trip from New York to Maryland produced a 2 1/4-length win in the Maryland Sprint Handicap on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico, and Sage Valley should appreciate dropping a notch in class to a spot more like that race than the deeper Forego.

Drawn just outside Sage Valley is Il Villano, who came within inches of a rallying victory last fall in the De Francis but hasn’t seen action since he set the pace and faded to third (placed second) Feb. 18 in the General George Handicap, also at Laurel. Il Villano has been working steadily at Parx Racing for his comeback, but trainer Susan Crowell has yet to win a race in 2013.

The 4-year-old Service for Ten is an interesting horse on the rise. A former claimer, Service for Ten returned from a layoff of almost six months to sharply win the Aug. 10 Moscarelli at Delaware Park with a strong rally, and he has won 5 of 9 races over the Laurel main track.

Ben’s Cat is among North America’s best short turf sprinters, but he is a capable dirt runner, as well, with a victory in the $200,000 Fabulous Strike in his most recent foray onto the main track.

The stakes action Saturday starts with race 2, the $100,000 Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds on turf. The $100,000 Lady Baltimore, race 7, boasts a deep, competitive group of 13 female turf-route runners. Ben’s Cat drew the outside post in a 10-horse Turf Dash, but still will be heavily favored to win if his connections opt for that spot. Atigun, Lake Drop, Royal Bench, and Eagle Poise head a full field entered in the 1 1/2-mile Laurel Turf Cup.

First post for the card is 1:10 Eastern. The National Weather Service forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday.