De Francis Dash returns to graded schedule for Laurel’s Fall Festival of Racing

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Jen Caldwell

November 16th, 2016

The $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Dash (G3) headlines a stakes-laden card on Saturday at Laurel Park, with nine runners taking part in the six-furlong event’s return to graded status.

The De Francis Dash debuted on the graded schedule in 1992 as a Grade 3, was bumped to a Grade 2 from 1994-98 and enjoyed Grade 1 honors from 1999-2009. After a hiatus from the schedule, it has been restored as a Grade 3 for 2016.

The 25th running of the De Francis Dash takes place on Laurel’s Fall Festival of Racing program that features seven stakes worth a total of $825,000 in purse money.

Some of the major players in the race are Ivan Fallunovalot, X Y Jet and Stallwalkin’ Dude.

That latter runner is exiting his first graded score in the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) on October 29 at Belmont Park, which followed a pair of in-the-money finishes against Grade 1 rivals. The six-year-old gelding tried the Forego Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in late August and finished third, then headed to Belmont Park for a close runner-up effort in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1).

Stallwalkin’ Dude earned a career-best 104 BRIS Speed rating for his Vosburgh second and followed up by visiting the Bold Ruler winner’s circle.

“Any graded race is huge but when you’ve competed so hard for so many times against all these great horses, to finally win one of those was a little extra special. To be able to campaign for as long as he’s been campaigning at this level is very impressive,” New York-based trainer and co-owner David Jacobson said.

“He’s a real classy horse and he knows how to take care of himself. He lets me know when he needs a little rest between races and when he’s ready to run right back. It’s good communication between the two of us,” he added. “It’s one race at a time, and right now it looks like he’s right there at the top of his game and we’re going to take advantage of it.”

Joe Bravo has the call on Stallwalkin’ Dude Saturday.

X Y Jet leads this field in terms of BRIS Speed (111) and Prime Power (153.1). The four-year-old son of Kantharos brought a three-race win streak into his 2016 opener, the Sunshine Millions Sprint, and continued his winning ways in that six-furlong affair as well as the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) one race later.

The gray gelding traveled to Meydan for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) as part of Dubai World Cup Day on March 26 and just missed in that prestigious sprint when second by a neck. Unfortunately, he came out of the contest with a chipped knee that required surgery, and spent the rest of the spring and the entire summer recuperating.

X Y Jet returned to action in the Vosburgh on October 1 and finished fifth after dueling early on the lead. He’s been working up a storm since, including a pair of bullet moves at Gulfstream Park West this month.

“We did surgery on him and he was out for three months. He came back in training again and it was another three months, but he’s ready,” trainer Jorge Navarro said. “The owners left it up to me for the Breeders’ Cup and I said, "No." I’m not looking for just one race, I’m looking for the future. This is a nice horse we’re talking about.

“He went in :21 and 43 last time, and I watched the races at Belmont for the last two months and there was nothing even close going that fast,” he added. “He came out of the last race really good. He’s ready.

“Jose Garcia worked him last week. I was in California so I needed somebody that I could trust, and he said, ‘Jorge, from the half-mile pole to the wire, I never saw a horse go that fast in my life,’ and he went in :47,” Navarro said. “He’s doing excellent. He’s ready for the race.”

Regular rider Emisael Jaramillo will be aboard X Y Jet in the De Francis Dash.

Ivan Fallunovalot brings a three-race win streak, which actually comprises the six-year-old’s starts this season, into this spot for trainer W. T. Howard.

The bay son of Valid Expectations has been off-the-board only five times from 23 career races, and the worse of those unplaced finishes came as a ninth in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Ivan Fallunovalot started off 2016 by defending his title in the January 30 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but wouldn’t be seen in competition again until taking an allowance at Remington Park on September 1.

The Texas-bred gelding added a third-straight score in the David M. Vance Sprint to his resume last out on September 25 and gets Calvin Borel back in the saddle for this go around.

“He has quarter cracks quite often. His feet are not good so it’s a constant battle with him. That’s why he was off so long,” Howard explained the long vacation. “Once we got ready to roll again there’s not that many kinds of races around there where we’re at, so we headed off this way.

“He comes back good. He knows his job and he tends to business. He doesn’t get worried about much. He’s pretty relaxed and on race day he knows what he’s doing.”

Stallwalkin’ Dude photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography