Millionaire Grade 1 winners Firenze Fire and Whitmore and graded-stakes winning sprinters Diamond Oops, New York Central, Strike Power and Uncontested are among 24 horses nominated to the $250,000 Xpressbet Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) Saturday, Sept. 21 at Laurel Park.
The 28th running of the six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up highlights Round 1 of the September to Remember Stakes Festival featuring eight stakes worth $1.3 million in purses that drew a total of 244 nominations, including 28 for the $200,000 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G3), led by Grade 1 winners Divisidero and Glorious Empire and defending champion Doctor Mounty.
Honoring the late owner of Laurel and legendary Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis’ roster of past winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster and fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull.
Mr. Amore Stable’s homebred Firenze Fire earned his Grade 1 triumph going a mile in the 2017 Champagne and is a four-time Grade 3 winner including last fall’s Gallant Bob and the May 11 Runhappy Stakes at six furlongs, where he is three-for-five lifetime. Last out he was second to win machine Mitole in the Forego (G1) Aug. 24 at Saratoga and has seven wins and nearly $1.4 million in earnings from 19 starts.
Co-owned by Robert LaPenta, trainer Ron Moquett and Head of Plains Partners’ Whitmore was last seen finishing eighth in the 6 ½-furlong True North (G2) June 8 at Belmont Park. Sporting a career bankroll of more than $2.5 million, he has one win in four tries this year after running second to two-time champion Roy H in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) last fall, and was placed second in the 2017 De Francis in his only race in Maryland.
LaPenta has a second nominee in 5-year-old Uncontested, co-owned with Harry Rosenblum. Uncontested has won each of his two previous starts at Laurel, including a front-running triumph in the seven-furlong General George (G3) Feb. 16. In his second start since being moved to trainer Tom Amoss, he went gate-to-wire for a two-length allowance score Aug. 15 at Saratoga.
Most recently second at 29-1 behind Imperial Hint’s track record-setting performance in the A.G. Vanderbilt (G1) July 27 at Saratoga, Diamond Oops won the Smile Sprint (G3) June 29 at Gulfstream Park. New York Central, exiting a seventh-place finish in the John A. Nerud (G2) July 6, has never raced at Laurel but became a graded winner with his decisive triumph in the Maryland Sprint (G3) May 18 on the Preakness (G1) undercard at Pimlico Race Course.
Second in the True North and fifth in the Vanderbilt, Strike Power came up empty in his most recent effort, the 5 ½-furlong Lucky Coin over Saratoga’s turf. Last year, the son of sprint champion Speightstown won the Swale (G3) and was second in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Also nominated are Killybegs Captain, third in last month’s Forego; Ohio-bred Altissimo, a 16-time career winner, eight of them in stakes; and fellow stakes winners Bon Raison, Old Time Revival and Wilbo.
The one-mile BWI Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up on Laurel’s world-class grass course is being targeted as the seasonal debut for Matt Schera’s Glorious Empire, a 2018 Eclipse Award finalist for champion male turf horse that has not raced since wiring a Fort Lauderdale (G2) field last December at Gulfstream where all 13 runners were graded-stakes winners. Glorious Empire went four-for-six last year, also winning the Sword Dancer (G1) and Bowling Green (G2), and sits less than $34,000 from millionaire status.
Gunpowder Farms and Brereton C. Jones’ Divisdero has bankrolled $1.6 million in purse earnings from 28 career starts, most recently winning the one-mile Red Bank (G3) by a length Sept. 1 at Monmouth Park. Second to Doctor Mounty in the Prince George’s County June 16 in his only previous try at Laurel, the 7-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy won the Turf Classic (G1) in 2016 and 2017 and gave trainer Kelly Rubley her first graded triumph in the 2018 Arlington Handicap (G3).
Doctor Mounty, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for Larry Pratt and Dave Alden, won the 1 1/16-mile Prince George’s County to give him five wins from eight tries at Laurel, with one second and one third. His nose victory over favored Projected in last year’s BWI Turf Cup came at odds of 26-1.
Other prominent nominees are Blacktype, an earner of $973,335 whose three career Grade 2 wins include the 2016 Commonwealth Turf Cup at Laurel; graded-stakes winners Caribou Club, Golden Brown, Real Story, Synchrony and 2016 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Just Howard; and Abiding Star, John Jones and O Dionysus, all stakes winners on both turf and dirt.
Juveniles will share the spotlight in the $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds and $200,000 Selima presented by Nila Bags for 2-year-old fillies, both at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Field Pass and Andesite, second and third, respectively, in Saratoga’s Aug. 28 With Anticipation (G3), and stakes winners Big City Bob, Doc Boy and Embolden top 34 Futurity nominees, while the Selima’s 31 nominations include Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies winner Jezebel’s Kitten and the top three finishers from the Sept. 1 Sorority at Monmouth Park – Micheline, Rising Bella and Sky Kitten.
Returning for its second year, the $150,000 Bald Eagle Derby presented by B & B Commercial Interiors for 3-year-olds going 1 ½ miles on the turf attracted 22 nominations, led by Global Access, winner of the Saranac (G3) Aug. 31 at Saratoga; Jais’s Solitude and Credit Swap, respectively second and third in the Virginia Derby (G3) the same day at Colonial Downs; 2018 Grey (G3) winner Solidify; and multiple stakes winner Uncle Benny, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) last fall.
Most popular among horsemen with 39 nominations was the $100,000 Laurel Dash presented by Fidelity First and Blackwell Real Estate, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for 3-year-olds and up. Among them are Wet Your Whistle, winner of the Highlander (G1) June 29 at Woodbine for trainer Mike Trombetta; Dubini and Fielder, who ran 2-3, respectively, in last year’s Dash; Dirty, record-setting winner of the King T. Leatherbury Stakes April 20 at Laurel; South African Group 1 winner Mustaaqeem; and Shekky Shebaz, who pushed his win streak to two in the Aug. 30 Lucky Coin at Saratoga.
The $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash for fillies and mares 3 and older, also at 5 ½ furlongs, saw 37 horses nominated including defending champion Fire Key, whose eighth and most recent win came in the License Fee Stakes April 28 at Belmont Park. Minit to Stardom, gate-to-wiere winner of the Honorable Miss (G2) July 24 at Saratoga; Goldwood, a winner of four consecutive stakes for trainer Jorge Duarte Jr., and Uruguayan Group 2 winner Holy Legal are also nominated.
Completing the Sept. 21 stakes lineup is the inaugural $100,000 Warrior’s Reward Weather Vane for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on the main track. A Bit of Both, a stakes winner on dirt and turf; stakes winners Adventurous Lady, Bye Bye J, Fancy Dress Party, Gotta Be Strong, Introduced, Needs Supervision and Meadow Dance, third in the 2019 Alcibiades (G1) are among 29 nominations.