Saturday cards offer plenty of star power

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Ted Black

September 15th, 2017

This coming Saturday thoroughbred racing fans in the Mid-Atlantic region will have plenty of quality runners to view when Laurel Park hosts a handful of open stakes, including the Grade III, $250,000 Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash at six furlongs on the main track. That same evening the focus for harness racing fans will be on Mohawk Raceway for a bevy of stakes at the Canadian oval.

Several of the open stakes at Laurel on Saturday afternoon will be on the grass, including both the Laurel Futurity and the Selima Stakes, events that were once major races on the main track and have since descended into virtual oblivion. Both the Laurel Dash and the Sensable Lady are competitive events for older sprinters on the lawn, but the main event is undoubtedly the DeFrancis Dash, a race that once held Grade I status when it regularly attracted perennial champions such as Housebuster, Safely Kept, Smoke Glacken, Orientate, Lite The Fuse and Kelly Kip.

This year's edition of the DeFrancis Dash may not boast of a previous Eclipse Award winner, but invaders Whitmore and Favorite Tale will both look to springboard from Maryland to the Breeders Cup Sprint at Del Mar later this fall. Whitmore was the beaten favorite in the Grade II True North last out at Belmont Park and could be a major player in the Breeders Cup six weeks from now, while Favorite Tale was third in the Sprint two years ago during a stellar season for owner-breeder Paul Conaway.

Saturday's card at Mohawk Raceway will feature a pair of lucrative events for sophomore trotters of both genders and also include eliminations for the Metro Stakes final for two-year-old colt pacers as well as highlight the older distaff pacers in the Milton Stakes final.

Saturday's third race at Mohawk is the latest edition of the $385,000 Elegant Image final for three-year-old filly trotters, although most of the attention will get focused on elim winner Ariana G (Yannick Gingras), who has won eight of 10 starts this year and 17 of 21 tries in her career for trainer Jimmy Takter. Ariana G has already secured divisional honors and is the solid favorite for trotter of the year right now and she looms the only serious threat to three-year-old pacing colt Fear The Dragon for horse of the year honors.

Then two races later on the card the sophomore colt trotters will be on display in the $684,000 Canadian Trotting Classic, a race that might finally enable one member of this group to ascend to the head of the class. Hambo winner Perfect Spirit is not on hand and neither is Devious Man or Yonkers Trot hero Top Flight Angel. So elim winners Bills Man and Dover Dan and beaten faves in those elims, What The Hill and International Moni and the well-backed Long Tom will look to join the discussion for champion sophomore trotting colt in a diluted division.

Then two races later on the card, Lady Shadow (Gingras) will look to rebound from a disappointing effort in her elim when she leaves from the rail against elim winners Blue Moon Stride (David Miller) and Pure Country (Mark Macdonald) who are both peaking at the right time with the lucrative fall stakes on tap. L A Delight displayed plenty of late kick after being shuffled out of it in her elim won by Pure Country and could finally end her current drought for trainer Robert McIntosh.

Of course on Monday evening the focus among race goers will be back on the Mid-Atlantic Region when Harrington Raceway hosts the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial Invitational for older pacers. Mach It So (David Miller), the 2015 Quillen hero and runner-up last year, drew the rail and will be formidable against Yonkers invaders Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) and Somewhere In L A (Tony Morgan) and the well-traveled Mel Mara (Corey Callahan) and All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley) who won last year's inaugural edition of the $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway in 1:48.2 to equal the all-age track record.

Several of the horses in the Quillen will likely continue preparing for the Breeders Crown elims and final at Hoosier Park in late October and several of them could also return to the region for the second edition of the Potomac. Mach It So, Wakizashi Hanover, Mel Mara and All Bets Off were among the inaugural field for the Potomac and local fans have already circled Sunday, November 5 on the calendar expecting many of them to return to Maryland for that event.