WEEKEND STAKES: WHERE TO WATCH brought to you by KBC Horse Supplies
Graded stakes racing is especially light this weekend because of the close proximity of the Breeders' Cup just two weeks away. There will be one race of interest in the Sprint division, the G1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial, to be run on Saturday at Laurel Park. The six-furlong race, for 3-year-olds and upward, has a tradition of being used a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. In 2006 and '07, De Francis winners Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull both went on to compete in the Sprint; Thor's Echo won the Sprint in 2006 and Benny the Bull finished fourth at Monmouth Park. The De Francis Dash was put on hiatus in 2008 due to financial distress according to the Maryland Jockey Club.
Other graded stakes being run Saturday are the Harold C. Ramser Sr. Handicap (G3) and the Raven Run (G3), at Oak Tree at Santa Anita and Keeneland, respectively. The Ramser is for 3-year-old fillies going one mile on the turf. The probable favorite is Mrs Kipling, a stakes winner in England and Italy before shipping to the Neil Drysdale barn a year ago. She finished first and second in two graded stakes this year before being eased in the 1 ¼-mile American Oaks (G1) in July. After a three-month layoff, she's working sharply and returns to the mile distance she obviously prefers. Mrs Kipling is owned by network and celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
This year the De Francis Dash features Vineyard Haven, installed as the morning-line favorite at 8-5. On the 2009 Kentucky Derby trail after wins in the Hopeful (G1) and the Champagne (G1) as a 2-year-old, he was shipped to Dubai to prep for the Derby. After a dismal race at Nad Al Sheba, he didn't reappear on the track until Aug. 29 this year in the King's Bishop (G1) at Saratoga. He finished first but was disqualified to second for interference in the race run over a sloppy track. If he proves his mettle here over older horses for the first time, he may a contender for the Breeders' Cup.
The Raven Run, open to 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Keeneland's Polytrack, is full of talent but Flashing is a slight stand-out. The Godolphin-owned daughter of A.P. Indy won the Test (G1) this summer before finishing third with a respectable effort in the Presque Isle Downs Masters (G3) in her debut over a synthetic surface. Look for her to be making a powerful run through the late stretch.
Belmont does not have any graded stakes this weekend. The Saturday card features five stakes for New York breds highlighted by the $250,000 Empire Classic. On Sunday there are six stakes races; two of the races, the Ticonderoga and the Mohawk, are for New York breds.