April 20, 2024

Whitmore headlines De Francis on 12-race Fall Festival card at Laurel

Whitmore winning the 2017 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) (c) Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography

Whitmore rose through the sprint ranks during the winter/spring, reeling off five consecutive victories including a trio of stakes, but the win streak came to a sudden halt in the True North (G2) at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old gelding never fired as the even-money favorite, checking in a flat third, but he has the opportunity to turn things around in Saturday’s $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3).

The 6-furlong test is one of seven stakes, and the only one not on turf, worth a combined $900,000 on an excellent 12-race Fall Festival of Racing program at Laurel Park.

Whitmore, who is being pointed toward the $2 million TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar on November 4, has been installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite among seven runners in the De Francis. Feargal Lynch will pick up the mount for Ron Moquett.

“He likes to win. His personality, he’s got the will to win and he’s got the body to follow through with it. He’s a cool horse,” Moquett said. “Our major goal is the Breeders’ Cup. This leads us toward that goal plus the De Francis is a historic race and it would be a feather in our cap to win it.”

Whitmore is returning from a 99-day layoff after missed a planned start in the July 29 A.G. Vanderbilt (G1) at Saratoga.

“He pounded his foot traveling on the plane and he basically dislodged his shoe,” the trainer explained. “It caused him to be sore, but it was just very temporary. The timing was unfortunate but I’m just glad he’s OK.”

Grade 2 hero Awesome Banner, a non-threatening second in the Vanderbilt, is listed as the 7-2 second choice. Conditioned by Kenneth Decker, the 4-year-old colt has placed in his last three outings, finishing third to Whitmore in the Maryland Sprint (G3) and runner-up in the Smile Sprint (G3). Tyler Gaffalione will be up.

Other contenders include Blu Moon Ace, who registered a 104 BRIS Speed rating romping in the August 26 Coalition at Timonium; Favorite Tale, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint third-placer who making his second start back from a 17-month hiatus; and multiple stakes victor Chublicious.

Other highlights on the Fall Festival of Racing:

Eleven older horses will square off in the Laurel Turf Cup, and Infinite Wisdom and Manitoulin will attract support following respectable efforts on Saratoga’s turf. French stakes winner Canessar is slated to make his U.S. bow and first start for trainer Arnold Delacour in the 1 ½-mile affair.

Last-out Saratoga turf maiden winners Battle Station and Majestic Dunhill are runners of interest in the Laurel Futurity. The 6-furlong affair features 11 juveniles including Dial One, third most recently in the off-the-turf Skidmore at Saratoga, from the Todd Pletcher stable.

The juvenile filly counterpart, the Selima, counts promising debut winners Light Up the Town and Wise Gal among leading contenders in the nine-horse field. Rose to Fame, who improved to 2-for-2 with a victory in the July 1 Brave Raj at Gulfstream, has been moved to Michael Matz will try the turf for new trainer Michael Matz.

Snowday, a rallying third to Pure Sensation in the September 4 Turf Monster (G3) at Parx, is the one to beat in the 6-furlong Laurel Dash. His opponents include Group 3 runner-up Dream Mover, who made his first U.S. appearance a winning one taking a Saratoga allowance last out.