-- Pimlico may not have landed prime target Pico Central, the favorite to earn an Eclipse Award as the country's top sprinter, but a tremendous field of speedsters has lined up to run in the Grade I $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Saturday at the track.
Four of the 11 entered horses -- Midas Eyes, Champali, Clock Stopper and local runner Abbondanza -- exit the Breeders' Cup Sprint to join the top three finishers from last year's De Francis and four other formidable runners to make up one of the best fields the race has attracted.
The 10-race card Saturday is by far the best offered in Maryland since Preakness Day in May. It features five other wide-open stakes races besides the De Francis, including the historic Grade III Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes for 2-year-olds, the Grade III Anne Arundel Stakes for fillies and mares, and the $100,000 Charlie Hadry Stakes for older horses. In all, the track will offer $816,000 in total purse money.
"Maryland needs a good day of racing, something to let them hold their heads up," said trainer Scott Lake, who will saddle 2003 De Francis runner-up Shake You Down for a return run.
Seven of the top nine money-earning jockeys in racing have mounts on the card, including Jerry Bailey, Edgar Prado, John Velazquez, Smarty Jones rider Stewart Elliott and local star Ramon Dominguez.
"Just off the Dash alone, it's going to be a great day for racing," said track handicapper Frank Carulli, who after the post position draw Wednesday installed the Bobby Frankel-trained Midas Eyes as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the De Francis. "All you have to do is look at last year's Dash and all three top finishers are back and are 8-1 or higher in the morning line."
A Huevo, trained by Michael Dickinson at his Tapeta Farm in North East, Md., turned in a remarkable performance to win the De Francis last year, having run only twice in the prior four years. Carulli made him 10-1 for Saturday despite a dominant 191/4-length victory Oct. 9 in the $300,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic at Charles Town.
Midas Eyes enters the De Francis with the biggest reputation. He won the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs at age 3 and looked devastating taking the Grade I Forego Handicap this summer at Saratoga.
Before running in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park, however, Midas Eyes badly bit his tongue. He went off as the favorite in the race won by Speightstown, but finished 10th.
"He came out [of the Breeders' Cup] okay, that's why I'm running him," Frankel said.
Paulo Lobo, California-based trainer of Pico Central, opted to run his horse Nov. 27 in the Grade I $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.