Woodford Racing’s Switzerland, whose four-race winning streak was snapped last time out in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), came right back to land Saturday’s $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) during Laurel’s stakes-packed Fall Festival of Racing.
Maryland has been a happy hunting ground for the Steve Asmussen trainee, who is now two-for-two in the Old Line State. Switzerland had scored a good-looking win in his stakes debut in the Maryland Sprint (G3) on Preakness Day at Pimlico.
Ridden for the first time by Fergal Lynch, the 9-5 favorite took several strides to organize himself from his rail post, but his early foot soon came to the fore. Switzerland put his head in front before the opening quarter was passed in :22.83, began to impose his authority on the far turn through a half in :45.72, kicked clear by the five-furlong mark in :57.20, and held sway by 2 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:09.11 for six furlongs.
Switzerland’s task was simplified by the absence of X Y Jet, who did not enter as originally planned. Connections reportedly wanted to give him a little more time to get over a minor injury, but the speedy gray is still on course for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Should Switzerland also advance to Churchill Downs November 3, he’d obviously face a far deeper cast than the one he dispatched at Laurel. The 11-1 Laki placed second, followed by Sweetontheladies and the 21-1 Colonel Sharp, Switzerland’s early pace rival. Lewisfield, The Man, Arthur’s Hope, and Always Sunshine rounded out the order under the wire, while Mr. Crow was scratched.
“Steve (Asmussen) said to me he doesn’t always break that sharp,” Lynch said of Switzerland. “He didn’t break that sharp the last time (in the Vanderbilt) and he rushed up in there (a tactic that contributed to his subpar fifth), and he didn’t want me to do that again.
“He broke probably second and he was able to get up in there, and I was able to get him to relax and hoped he’d be able to stay on. I’m just glad we got the job done.”
“It was never in doubt but it took him a while to switch leads and it wasn’t until the sixteenth pole that he switched on me and he just found a little bit more. He was just doing enough in front.
“This is a really nice horse. He’s a serious horse. He’s so natural and so speedy.”
By Speightstown and out of the Grade 2-placed, multiple stakes-winning Indian Charlie mare Czechers, Switzerland sold for $500,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May two-year-old. The four-year-old colt has now earned $437,380 from his 13-5-2-3 line.
Lynch rode two other stakes winners on the card, both in turf sprints. Bran Jam Stable and David W. Clark’s Order and Law rallied from last, down the extreme outside, to break his maiden in the $100,000 Laurel Futurity. Up in time to mug Scrap Copper by a nose, the Louis Linder Jr. pupil slogged six furlongs on the yielding course in 1:14.94. Market Bubble, the 3-1 favorite after a sharp Belmont debut, was a non-threatening eighth.
“We’re thrilled to see him get up,” Linder said of the Violence juvenile. “I knew he would come running, especially with the soft going. I saw him coming, then he went out of the picture. Then I saw him coming again and I knew we had a shot.
“He showed a lot of talent from the beginning, and moving forward I think he’ll get better with more distance. We’ll look at a race at Keeneland. That would probably be our next move.”
Edward J. Short’s Class and Cash also charged from far back in the $100,000 Laurel Dash over the same course and distance, but Lynch guided him on the inside to run down Dubini by a half-length. Runner-up by just a head here last year, the Exchange Rate gelding recorded his first stakes win in a final time of 1:14.04.
“He always gives 100 percent,” said Matt Hartman, assistant to trainer Jane Cibelli. “He got shuffled back a little further than I thought, but he always tries. It wasn’t really a concern at the start but turning for home he was a little further back than I should he should have been, but he found his way through. He’s a wonderful horse.”
Likewise in the $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash, 2017 runner-up Fire Key went one better. Under Julian Pimentel, the Backwards Stable homebred prevailed in a three-way finish with Compelled and Fear No Evil while clocking six furlongs in 1:14.96.
“She’s been very sharp the last couple years,” trainer Patrick Kelly said of Fire Key, whose prior stakes laurel came in last November’s Autumn Days at Aqueduct. “We came down here last year and just missed in this race. The plan was to try and get back this year and it worked out. She doesn’t win by much, but she’s gutsy.”
Lael Stables’ Monkeys Uncle remained unbeaten from two starts in the $100,000 Selima, continuing the pattern of the turf sprint stakes winners coming from off the pace. Trained by Arnaud Delacour and piloted by Daniel Centeno, the $300,000 OBS March juvenile spun out wide into the lane and drove home in 1:16.11.
“Arnaud told me six furlongs would probably be a little short but we had to try it, so I just wanted to break and settle her down and try to make one run,” Centeno said of the Uncle Mo filly who’d broken her maiden going a mile and 70 yards at Delaware Park.
“I tried to save a little ground on the last turn but it’s really soft and the ground was giving out, so I moved outside and she saw the clear. I moved a little early and a little wide but she held it all the way to the wire. She was a little more focused today. She’s a really smart filly and she really tried.”
In contrast to the six-furlong sprints staged on the “Fort Marcy” course with the rail 87 feet out, the turf route stakes on the “All Along” course favored on-pace types.
Grade 2-placed Hello Don Julio, a mainstay on the salty New York turf scene, broke through with a first stakes coup for owner/trainer Michael Dilger in the $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup. After racing on the lead or in tandem with Final Copy for much of the 1 1/2-mile affair, the 3-2 favorite drew away beneath Channing Hill and finished in 2:34.63. Cooptado cut the margin to three-quarters of a length as Final Copy faded to fourth.
“To be honest with you I couldn’t believe how settled he was,” Hill said. “Obviously the turf course was a little soft and he was so good. It shows you how much class this horse has. He took a deep breath and as soon as Gary’s horse (Stevens on Final Copy) put a head in front, he took another deep breath. I was like, ‘Man, this is great from here.’
“From the eighth pole I was just hoping he would kick on. The horse that ran second (Cooptado) came at us a little bit and I was hoping he would find something and obviously he did. He just galloped away from them.”
Epic Racing’s Valedictorian went wire to wire in the $100,000 All Along. With J. D. Acosta rationing out her speed, the Kelly Breen filly opened up beyond recall to spring the 12-1 upset over Mythical Mission. Valedictorian negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.74 to notch her second stakes win, but first in open company, after landing the Jersey Girl for state-breds at Monmouth.
“I just was really concentrating on the break and put her in front,” Acosta recapped. “Those were the instructions – just try to make her come down in the first half of the race and switch leads and slow down the pace because the turf is a little soft. I didn’t want to let her do too much and make her get tired in the end. Everything worked out because as soon as she got to the lead she relaxed and she was waiting like she knew what to do.
“I looked back a couple of times turning for home and I saw she slowed down a little bit. I know the horses from off the pace are going to try to catch up to me but she left a little bit in the tank and she gave it to me.”
The Fall Festival of Racing opened with the legendary horseman King Leatherbury registering his 6,500th victory, courtesy of Happy Lantern in the 1ST. In recent years, the 85-year-old was best known for his role as owner/breeder/trainer of another Maryland legend, the late Ben’s Cat.