10/24/2009 12:00AM

Vineyard Haven digs deep in De Francis

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Vineyard Haven rallies along the rail to reel in Ravalo in Saturday's Grade 1 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash.

LAUREL, Md. - Vineyard Haven doesn't mind running in the mud. He just doesn't like it getting splashed in his face.

Racing in a heavy rain over a sloppy, sealed track at Laurel Park on Saturday afternoon, Vineyard Haven looked like a beaten horse when he dropped back to sixth with a quarter-mile remaining in the Grade 1 . But when the rail opened up - allowing jockey Alan Garcia to put Vineyard Haven in a spot where the mud splashback was minimal - the 3-year-old colt closed strongly to earn the third Grade 1 victory in his seven-race career.

The 4-5 favorite in a field of eight sprinters, Vineyard Haven ($3.60) outfought Ravalo and Fleet Valid to prevail by a half-length after six furlongs in 1:09.62.

The locally based Ravalo, a 6-year-old who was seeking his 10th victory in a sprint stakes, finished a half-length in front of third-place Fleet Valid, whose four-race winning streak ended.

Rick Mettee, the New York-based assistant to Godolphin Racing trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said Vineyard Haven will be pointed to the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

"A one-turn mile is really ideal for him," Mettee said.

Mettee said he left it up to Garcia whether to gun for the lead from the rail or take back off what turned out to be a hot, contested pace with fractions of 21.89 and 44.68 seconds.

"The way this track was," said Mettee, referring to the slop, "to go 44-and-change was really faster than it sounds."

Sitting off the pace may have helped Vineyard Haven, but the kickback in his face discouraged him entering the turn.

"The mud impacted him a lot," Mettee said. "He didn't like all that mud hitting him.

"I had serious doubt he was going to win," Mettee added. "Luckily, the rail opened up and there wasn't as much mud hitting him once he got to the rail. If that spot on the rail hadn't opened up, I don't know what would have happened."

Garcia, who left immediately after posing for a photo in the indoor paddock to ride in Saturday night's Seton Hall University Stakes at the Meadowlands, said he had his doubts whether Vineyard Haven was going to win.

"During the first part of the race I wasn't sure we were going to be able to get there, but when the rail opened my horse just started running to the hole. This was a great effort."

Jeremy Rose, who rode Ravalo, said he hoped taking his horse down the middle of the track would give him an advantage in the stretch run.

"I got outside where I thought the best part of the track was," Rose said. "I was hoping Alan was in the wrong part of the track, but he beat us."

Sarto takes off-the-turf Find

Sarto ($12.40) overtook pacesetter In the Juice in deep stretch to win the $50,000 Find Handicap for Maryland-breds.

The 1 1/8-mile race was moved from the turf to a sloppy and sealed main track following heavy rain that occurred midway through the 10-race card.

The surface switch worked to Sarto's benefit. A 4-year-old gelding ridden by Joe Rocco Jr. for trainer Edwin Merryman, Sarto was 0 for 2 on turf, but is now 3 for 5 over wet tracks.

In defeating In the Juice by 1 3/4 lengths, Sarto covered the nine furlongs in 1:51.04.

Regal Solo nosed out 5-2 second choice Target Sighted for third. Maryland Million Classic winner Sumacha'hot finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite.

Five Diamonds wins first stakes in Twixt

Five Diamonds ($7.80) relished the sloppy going to register her first stakes victory in the $50,000 Twixt for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Ridden for the first time by Harry Vega, Five Diamonds challenged pacesetter Ravenous to put a head in front with two furlongs remaining in the one-mile race and drew clear by 2 3/4 lengths.

Love's Blush, the slight favorite at 5-2, rallied to get second, three-quarters of a length in front of 22-1 longshot Southern Charmer.

Based at Laurel with trainer John Salzman Jr., Five Diamonds had finished second in both the Shine Again at Pimlico and the Pearl Necklace at Laurel earlier this season. She completed the distance over a sloppy, sealed track in 1:37.89 while winning for the fourth time in 14 starts.