11/22/2006 12:00AM

Thor's Echo faces eight in De Francis


Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Thor's Echo will have to deal with two familiar faces Saturday at Laurel Park in the $300,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash.

Nightmare Affair and Attila's Storm, who both finished within five lengths of Thor's Echo three weeks ago at Churchill Downs, are among the eight sprinters who will challenge the California-based Thor's Echo in his bid to nail down an Eclipse Award in the Grade 1 Dash.

The Dash, which goes as the 10th and final race on a card that begins at 12:10 p.m. Eastern, highlights a Fall Festival of Racing program featuring six other six-figure stakes. Overall, 115 horses were entered for the seven stakes and a starter handicap.

Thor's Echo was assigned the outside post 9 at Wednesday's draw for the Dash. In contrast, the 4-year-old Thor's Echo broke from the rail in the BC Sprint on a day when the inside part of the racetrack was quite favorable. Four winners on dirt came from post 1 on Breeders' Cup Day.

Nightmare Affair (post 5), who won the Grade 2 Smile Handicap at Calder in July, and Attila's Storm, third in both the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita, are the only other members of the Dash field who are proven Grade 1 sprint performers.

Nightmare Affair, based in south Florida with trainer Manny Azpurua, ran third in the BC Sprint after encountering traffic trouble on the backstretch. He will be ridden for the first time by Ramon Dominguez, the riding champion at the recently concluded Delaware Park meet and the second leading jockey by wins in the country.

Attila's Storm (post 7), who has raced just twice since January, dueled for the early lead from post 13 in the BC Sprint before weakening to finish fifth, 4 3/4 lengths behind Thor's Echo but only a half-length in back of Nightmare Affair. He gets a rider switch to Rosie Napravnik, Laurel's leading jockey.

Horsemen responded enthusiastically to the other stakes on the card. Five races drew the maximum 14 entries and two - the April Run for fillies and mares on turf and the Laurel Turf Cup for older horses - have six also-eligibles apiece.