The Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash has produced three champion sprinters in its brief history, and Yes It's True might become the next.
The 3-year-old captured the $300,000 sprint at Laurel Park yesterday, and while the victory was no surprise, the way he did it was utterly unexpected. The brilliantly fast, one-dimensional speed horse altered his style, came from off the pace and outfinished his main rival, Good and Tough, by three-quarters of a length. After the performance proving his colt's versatility, trainer Wayne Lukas was looking ahead to the Breeders' Cup, the race that traditionally crowns the nation's sprint champion.
This is not what Lukas originally envisioned for Yes It's True. The colt's owner, Satish Satan, said yesterday that his goal is no less than "to win every one of the classics," and when Lukas spent $800,000 of Satan's money for Yes It's True at an auction, both had visions of the Kentucky Derby.
But Yes It's True demonstrated repeatedly that he couldn't win going a mile, let alone a classic distance, and Lukas observed, "He's a great physical specimen and truly typifies what a great sprinter should be." Since Lukas gave up trying to send the colt farther than seven furlongs, Yes It's True has won three consecutive sprints impressively.
But he came to Laurel yesterday with some unanswered questions about his capabilities. He had never won a race without flaunting his raw speed; he had zipped a half-mile in 43 3/5 seconds in his last start. And he had never beaten a rival the quality of Good and Tough, a 4-year-old who has been battling the nation's best sprinters for two seasons. Bettors gave Yes It's True the edge, making him the 3-5 favorite with Good and Tough 8-5 in what amounted to a two-horse race.
When the gate opened, Yes It's True didn't break fast and jockey Jerry Bailey made no effort to gun him to the front--even though there wasn't much speed in the field and he could have had the lead if he wanted it. Surprisingly, the long shots Nimble and Storm Punch were racing head-and-head while the favorites stalked them. Bailey was on the outside, ready to sweep past the leaders; Shane Sellers had Good and Tough positioned near the rail.
When Nimble weakened, Storm Punch was momentarily left with the lead on the turn. Yes It's True and Good and Tough made their moves almost simultaneously, and if the betting windows had been open at this moment, most handicappers would have put their money on Good and Tough. He is a proven stretch runner, while Yes It's True has never passed a horse in the stretch.
But Yes It's True rallied relentlessly and outfinished the strong finisher with an impressive burst of speed in the final quarter mile. After the field had covered a half-mile in 44 4/5 seconds on a fast surface, Yes It's True won in 1:08 3/5--covering the final quarter in 23 4/5 seconds. The ability to run a final quarter-mile in less than 24 seconds is traditionally considered the hallmark of a great finisher.
"This horse didn't get a good start today, and that really paid off for us," Bailey said. "He had plenty left when we needed it. And we needed it."
CAPTION: With Jerry Bailey aboard at Laurel, Yes It's True edges Good and Tough.
CAPTION: Yes It's True, left, the 3-5 favorite in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, is good enough to stay in front of Good and Tough down stretch.