09/13/2017 3:38PM

Whitmore to be favored over six rivals in De Francis Memorial Dash

Michael Amoruso
Whitmore wins the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlilco in May.

It wasn't easy to fill, but the Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on Saturday closed with seven entrants on Wednesday despite track management declining to accept two entries from trainer Jorge Navarro. The six-furlong De Francis is one of seven stakes on the Laurel card.

Navarro and one of his owners, Randal Gindi, were each fined $5,000 by the Monmouth Park stewards on Sunday for "conduct detrimental to racing" after a video posted online showed them making inappropriate comments following a Gulfstream Park race won by Navarro's brother, Marcial.

The Monmouth stewards have referred the matter to the New Jersey Racing Commission and requested Gindi's fine be increased to $20,000 and Navarro's upped to $10,000.

Whitmore will be a heavy favorite in the $250,000 De Francis as he preps for the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore will carry 122 pounds from post 4 and concede four pounds to each of his opponents. Maryland-based Feargal Lynch picks up the mount.

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The De Francis will be Whitmore's first start since finishing third at even-money in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park on June 10. Whitmore dropped far back in that race and then rallied belatedly.

Whitmore was scheduled to race in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on July 29 but was declared from the race following a minor shipping injury.

Prior to the True North, Whitmore had reeled off five impressive victories in a row, including the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico and the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

"He's ready," Moquett said. "It's going to be all about the trip and if he likes the surface. And he's pretty much liked every surface he's been over."

In post-position order, Whitmore's opponents are Struth, Mr. Jordan, Awesome Banner, Blu Moon Ace, Chublicious, and Favorite Tale.

Blu Moon Ace is cross-entered in the $100,000 Laurel Dash, a six-furlong turf race earlier on the card.

Navarro had planned to enter Vanderbilt winner El Deal and Chublicious.

Owned by David Gruskos, Chublicious was scheduled to be transferred to the Laurel barn of Claudio Gonzalez following the De Francis, just as he was after the close of Monmouth Park last year. Instead, he was transferred to Gonzalez on Wednesday and will race in his name.

According to Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, Chublicious will remain in Gonzalez's barn after the De Francis. Gonzalez trains other horses for Gruskos.

"When it was first suggested the horse be transferred today, Claudio wasn't sure he wanted to take the horse so soon before a race," Sinatra said. "But after he spoke with the horse's current veterinarian and the owner, he agreed."

Whitmore's strongest challengers look to be Favorite Tale, Awesome Banner, and Mr. Jordan.

Favorite Tale returned from a 17-month layoff to finish a close, hard-trying second in the Pennsylvania-bred Banjo Picker Stakes two weeks ago at Parx for trainer Lupe Preciado.

Awesome Banner, trained by Kenneth Decker, finished a close third in the Maryland Sprint to Whitmore and A. P. Indian and has since been second in the Smile Sprint and Vanderbilt.

Mr. Jordan finished third in his last start, the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes. He will be shortening up from 1 1/8 miles but did win a no-conditions allowance going seven furlongs at Parx two starts ago for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.

The second-richest stakes on the program is the $150,000 All Along Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares. The All Along has drawn On Leave from the barn of Shug McGaughey; Juno, trained by Neil Drysdale; and Paige, who races for Christophe Clement.

The five other stakes, each of which has a purse of $100,000, are the Laurel Futurity and the Selima, six-furlong turf races for 2-year-olds; the Laurel Dash and the Sensible Lady Turf Dash, six-furlong grass races for 3-year-olds and up; and the Laurel Turf Cup, a 1 1/2-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.