09/17/2013 2:19PM

Laurel: Stakes grouped on six big days; super high 5 added


Taking its cue from other racetracks that have enjoyed success by bundling multiple stakes onto a single program to create a major event day, the Maryland Jockey Club has altered its presentation of stakes at Laurel Park and added a new exotic wager tied to those races.

The 59-day fall meet that begins Thursday will feature 29 stakes worth a collective $3.25 million. But unlike the past, when Laurel tried to offer one stakes each weekend, all the stakes are now clustered on six Saturdays from opening weekend to late December. The Fall Turf Festival, normally held in late October, kicks off the revised stakes schedule this Saturday. The program is highlighted by six turf stakes, plus the $350,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash at six furlongs on the main track.

Among the horses considered probable for the De Francis Dash are Il Villano, idle since finishing third in the Grade 3 General George Handicap in February; Sage Valley, the winner of two Grade 3 sprints this season; Saturday’s Charm, who missed by a nose in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap in March; Ribo Bobo, winner of the Icecapade at Monmouth Park on Labor Day; plus 2013 stakes winners Broad Rule and Service for Ten.

Maryland star Ben’s Cat was nominated to the De Francis Dash but is expected to run instead in the $100,000 Laurel Dash at six furlongs on turf.

Saturday will also feature the unveiling of a new super high five wager and a ceremony honoring retired jockey Ramon Dominguez, a former Maryland regular.

The super high five wager will be offered exclusively on stakes during the fall meet. It is a $1 minimum bet with a takeout of 25.75 percent, and will be limited to stakes that have at least seven different betting interests. To win, bettors must select the first five finishers in exact order. If there are no correct tickets, the entire net pool – money wagered minus takeout – is carried over to the next race that offers a super high  five. Any accumulated carryover will be paid out on the last super high five wager of the meet, even if there are no perfect tickets.

Dominguez, who retired in June due to a head injury sustained in a spill at Aqueduct in January, will make a special appearance at the track. A regular rider at Laurel and Pimlico for five years early in his career, Dominguez will be honored in the winner’s circle after the second race. The Maryland Jockey Club will make a donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund in his name. Dominguez will then conduct an autograph session in the grandstand from 2-3 p.m.

After this weekend, there will be no more stakes racing until Jim McKay Maryland Million Day on Oct. 19, which features seven stakes and a pair of starter handicaps for the offspring of Maryland-based stallions. Two of the stakes that were part of the Maryland Million, the Turf Sprint and the Oaks, have been eliminated, but there will still be 11 races on the card. Replacing the two dropped stakes are a pair of $50,000 maiden races on the turf. In addition, the purses of the Turf and Ladies have been increased from $100,000 to $125,000.

There will be four $100,000 stakes apiece on Nov. 9, Nov. 16, and Dec. 7, followed by a stakes tripleheader on Dec. 28.

With Frank Carulli leaving following last spring’s Pimlico meet to try his hand as a professional gambler, his duties have been assigned to two people. Keith Feustle will take over Carulli’s morning-line duties, while Gabby Gaudet becomes the racing analyst on in-house television.

The co-features on the opening-day nine-race card are a pair of first-level allowances for fillies and mares, one on the main track and the other on turf. Both races are worth $42,000.