Graded Winners Wondrwherecraigis, Pickin’ Time Among Rivals
Six-Furlong Sprint Headlines Four Stakes Worth $450,000 Saturday
LAUREL, Md. – Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s claimer-turned-multiple graded-stakes winner Special Reserve, unraced since a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) last fall, will face seven rivals including Grade 3 winners Wondrwherecraigis and Pickin’ Time for his 6-year-old debut in Saturday’s $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.
The 31st running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $450,000 in purses on a 11-race program that includes the $100,000 Alma North for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting 6 ½ furlongs, and a pair of $100,000 stakes scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the turf – the Prince George’s County for 3-year-olds and up and Big Dreyfus for females 3 and older.
All four races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series. First race post time is 12:40 p.m.
Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis’ illustrious roster of winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster; fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull; and Lite the Fuse, the race’s only two-time winner (1995-96).
Special Reserve, by Midshipman, has been working steadily for his return with trainer Mike Maker in Kentucky, most recently breezing an easy half-mile in 50.20 seconds July 11. Victor Carrasco is named to ride from Post 6 at 120 pounds.
“He’s been training forwardly and we’re anxious to see him come back,” Paradise Farm’s Peter Proscia said. “He had a little rest. It’s a little more than I expected, but Mike wanted to make sure that everything is well with him. We want to make our best efforts moving forward.”
Maker claimed Special Reserve for $40,000 last February out of a win at Oaklawn Park, where he returned to win the following month before the meet’s end. Narrowly beaten in the Commonwealth (G3) at Keeneland in the spring, he became a graded winner with a 1 ¾-length triumph in the Maryland Sprint (G3) on the Preakness Stakes (G1) undercard at Pimlico.
“I was there the day he won the race at Pimlico, and that springboarded us into the Breeders’ Cup,” Proscia said. “He’s been great with us. We got claimer of the year award at Oaklawn Park that was given to us a few months back. We can’t wait to start his campaign.”
A gutsy neck victory over Maryland-bred Aloha West in the Phoenix (G2) last October at Keeneland, punched Special Reserve’s ticket to Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. Four weeks later Special Reserve ran fourth behind Aloha West in the Sprint, a race where he rushed up to press the pace after having his head turned at the start then bumped into the turn and brushed with runner-up Dr. Schivel while between horses down the lane before flattening out. He was beaten a total of 2 ¼ lengths.
Special Reserve has been another chapter in the success story of the partners and Maker, whose other top horses include May 20 Miss Preakness (G3) winner Lady Scarlet, claimed for $150,000 last November, and March 5 Mac Diarmida (G2) winner Temple, picked up for a $35,000 tag in July 2019.
“I’m a numbers guy,” Proscia said. “I initiated the find and we’re a partnership, so he went ahead and took a look at the visual, and we thought it would be a good opportunity. We never expected the horse to be where he is today. These horses can turn around, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. We did get lucky and we’re pretty happy about the results.”
Graded Winners Wondrwherecraigis, Pickin’ Time Among De Francis Dash Rivals
Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables’ Wondrwherecraigis finished first by three-quarters of a length in last year’s De Francis, then a Grade 3, but was disqualified to second behind Jalen Journey for drifting out in the stretch. He won the Bold Ruler (G3) at Belmont Park in his subsequent start, the first graded triumph for he and trainer Brittany Russell.
Wondrwherecraigis has finished first in all four tries over his home track at Laurel, the other three wins, including the six-furlong Fire Plug Jan. 29 in his 5-year-old debut.
“He’s great,” Russell said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked, so it’s up to him now.”
The De Francis will be the first start for Wondrwherecraigis following his return from Dubai, where he ran 10th in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) March 26, only the third time in 12 career starts that he was worse than third. The seven-time career winner spent some of his recovery time with Bruce Jackson at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. before returning to Russell.
“He’s a nice character to have around the barn. He goes out there and does his job and does what we ask him to do,” Russell said. “He’s lovely to be around. When he first came back from Fair Hill, he was proud to be home. He’s showed that every day training since he’s been back, so it’s nice to have him and be able to lead him over there.”
Sheldon Russell, recently returned from nearly 10 months on the sidelines, has the call from outside Post 8 at topweight of 126 pounds. Brittany Russell’s husband was aboard for a pair of optional claiming allowance wins last spring and summer at Pimlico.
“I feel like he’s doing great. Off the trip to Dubai and everything, you wonder if you have him as good as you can and you question a lot of things, but he’s a smart horse,” Brittany Russell said. “We just try to keep him happy and stay out of his way and just let him tell us when he’s ready, and all the signs are pointing in that direction.”
Trainer Kelly Breen entered the pair of Pickin’ Time and Royal Urn. Roseland Farm Stable’s Pickin’ Time won the 2020 Nashua (G3) as a 2-year-old at Aqueduct and had a pair of stakes wins at 3, including locally in the seven-furlong City of Laurel last November. He has made one start in 2022, running third in the six-furlong John J. Reilly Handicap May 15 at Monmouth Park behind John Bowers Jr.’s homebred Royal Urn, who was most recently third in the one-mile Sunny Ridge Handicap June 12.
Susan Quick and Christopher Feifarek’s Pennsylvania homebred Beren is a five-time stakes winner that has run second in each of his last three starts – the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley to end 2021, April 25 Page McKenney Handicap over his home track of Parx and June 17 Chocolate Town at Penn National.
Beren has run at six different racetracks in 17 career starts, finishing first or second 12 times with seven wins, but the De Francis will be his first-time racing in Maryland.
“He certainly doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him. He runs pretty well over any kind of surface,” trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. said. “At some point we’d like to try him on the turf, too, but not right now.
“The best thing about him is he’s got a great head on his shoulders. He doesn’t overextend himself in training and is just a calm horse. He acts great in the paddock, doesn’t waste a lot of energy and he’s just really consistent,” he added. “A couple of those seconds we thought could have been wins along the way, but one thing about him is you know he’s going to give a good, honest effort every time you take him over there. That’s all you can ask.”
Regular rider Frankie Pennington comes in for the assignment from Post 7.
The other multiple stakes winner in the De Francis is Pocket 3’s Racing’s Threes Over Deuces. Based at Laurel with trainer Gary Capuano, he was fourth by three lengths to Ny Traffic in the Chocolate Town – two lengths behind Beren – in his most recent start.
“He got a little too far back and he made a nice run, but he had no chance of catching those horses. The speed bias at Penn National was just way too much for him to overcome, but he did run big and he kind of weaved his way through there a little bit,” Capuano said. “He was full of run late, but it was too late.”
Threes Over Deuces won the six-furlong Dave’s Friend last December at Laurel and the 2020 New Castle at Delaware Park and has run second in the May 21 Maryland Sprint and 2020 General George (G3).
“Deuces just plugs along and does his thing,” Capuano said.
Uriah St. Lewis owned-and-trained War Tocsin was third to Jaxon Traveler at odds of 17-1 in the Maryland Sprint and second behind Cordmaker at 48-1 in the General George. Fourth in last year’s De Francis after a belated start, he was third last out to champion Jackie’s Warrior in the 6 ½-furlong True North (G2) June 10 at Belmont.
Completing the field is Karan’s Notion, winner of the 2020 Maryland Million Sprint for breeder, owner and trainer Nancy Heil.
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
Photo by Jim McCue/MJC