De Francis (G3) Next Stop for 'Craig' Following Saturday Breeze

De Francis (G3) Next Stop for 'Craig' Following Saturday Breeze

Six-Furlong Sprint Headlines Four Stakes Worth $500,000 Sept. 18
Favored Matta Sprints to Saturday Feature Triumph on Turf

LAUREL, MD – It’s on to the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) for newly minted stakes winner Wondrwherecraigis, who tuned up for his return to graded competition with an easy half-mile breeze Saturday morning at Laurel Park.

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables’ 4-year-old gelding Wondrwherecraigis went four furlongs in 49 seconds over Laurel’s main track, which underwent a multi-million dollar reconstruction over the summer.

It was the second work for Wondrwherecraigis since earning his first career stakes victory Aug. 13 in the Tale of the Cat at Saratoga. He also breezed a half-mile in 49.20 seconds Sept. 3.

“That’s all we wanted,” trainer Brittany Russell said of Saturday’s work. “He’s great. He’s in good form. He’s happy and he’s training well. We have a lot going on at the moment, but it looks like we’re going to move forward to next week.”

The six-furlong De Francis for 3-year-olds and up headlines four stakes worth $500,000 in purses Saturday, Sept. 18 at Laurel, which launched its calendar year-ending fall meet Thursday. Joining the De Francis are the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting six furlongs and a pair of $100,000 stakes going one mile, the Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and Twixt for females 3 and older.

All four races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

Named for the late president and chairman of both Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, the De Francis’ illustrious roster of winners includes Hall of Famer Housebuster, fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull, and Lite the Fuse, the race’s only two-time winner (1995-96) honored with his own stakes race in Maryland.

Wondrwherecraigis has won each of his last two starts, both in front-running fashion. Saratoga meet champion Luis Saez was aboard in the six-furlong Tale of the Cat, beating fellow De Francis nominee My Boy Tate by 2 ¾ lengths in 1:10.09. He was a popular 5 ¾-length winner of a July 18 optional claiming allowance at Pimlico under Russell’s husband, jockey Sheldon Russell.

The connections will need a new rider as Sheldon Russell suffered a broken foot after being thrown from his horse during the post parade of Thursday’s opening day finale at Laurel and will be out indefinitely.

Other jockeys to have ridden Wondrwherecraigis include Jose Lezcano and Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, the latter in the 2020 Amsterdam (G2) last August where they ran fourth in the Munnings gelding’s only previous graded-stakes attempt.

Sheldon Russell is also the regular rider for six-time stakes winner Hello Beautiful, trained by his wife and owned by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables and scheduled to start in the Weather Vane. Hello Beautiful, who gave Russell his 1,500th career victory in the July 31 Alma North at Pimlico, breezed a half-mile in 48.60 seconds Sept. 8.

“We’ll just regroup here the next couple days and see what we’re going to do,” Brittany Russell said.

Other De Francis nominees breezing Saturday were Mucho, four furlongs in 50.80 seconds at the Churchill Downs’ Trackside training center for trainer John Ortiz; and Gary Capuano-trained stablemates Band On Tour (48.20) and Threes Over Deuces (48.40) at Delaware Park.

Band On Tour, 4, exits a six-furlong optional claiming allowance win Aug. 7 at Pimlico. Threes Over Deuces is a stakes winner that has run second or third in six others including a runner-up finish to Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire in the 2020 General George (G3) at Laurel.

Mucho leads the 3-year-old and up dirt sprint division of the MATCH Series with 20 points, two more than defending De Francis champion and fellow nominee Laki. Winner of the July 31 Challedon at Pimlico, Mucho is also tied with Chub Wagon for the overall MATCH Series championship.

Kentucky-based Ortiz said Saturday that Mucho is being pointed to the Phoenix (G2) Oct. 8 at Keeneland, an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar.

“I know we’re sitting so close to winning the MATCH Series, but when a horse is doing this well you have to take advantage,” Ortiz said. “Kentucky being our home and his home track and Lexington being my hometown, I just think it’s best to get a ‘Win and You’re In’ while things are going the right way.”

Favored Matta Sprints to Saturday Feature Triumph on Turf

R. Larry Johnson and R.D.M. Racing Stable’s Matta surged past front-running Noble Commander in the final sixteenth of a mile to stretch his win streak to two with a half-length triumph in Saturday’s feature at Laurel Park.

Ridden by Julien Pimentel for trainer Mike Trombetta, Matta ($3.80) covered 5 ½ furlongs over a firm All Along turf course in 1:02.57 as the 4-5 favorite in a second-level optional claiming allowance that drew nine 3-year-olds and up including June 13 Ben’s Cat winner Valued Notion and 2020 Maryland Million Sprint winner Karan’s Notion.

A 5-year-old Take Charge Indy gelding, Matta rated in third off a quarter-mile of 22.08 seconds set by Ziggy Mon under hard pressure from Noble Commander. Ziggy Mon remained in front to mid-stretch before being overtaken by Noble Commander, who was unable to hold off Matta’s charge on the far outside.

Burning Daylight Farms and Rebecca Galbraith’s Neotropic ($5), a sophomore son of Tapit making his first start as a gelding after going unraced for two months, returned a neck winner over Lacco Ameno following a sustained run in Saturday’s opener. The winning time in the 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight for horses 3, 4 and 5 was 1:53.67 on the Dahlia layout.

Race 3 was an open allowance for fillies and mares going one mile won by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Farfellow Farm, Ltd.’s Thinking ($10.80). The 3-year-old Nyquist filly, racing second time off nearly a nine-month layoff, dueled for the lead before taking over after six furlongs and drawing off by four lengths in 1:37.81.

Burke, Campbell and Picarello’s I Love You ($7) found herself in front once straightened for home and powered through the stretch to a five-length victory in Race 7, a one-mile allowance for fillies and mares 3 and up on the Dahlia. I Love You, second in her two previous races, completed the distance in 1:37.79.

Notes: A group of horsemen and racing officials gathered in the winner’s circle following Saturday’s fourth race to lead a moment of silence on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks … Laurel will close opening weekend of its fall meet with an eight-race card starting at 12:40 p.m. Sunday. The feature comes in Race 7, a six-furlong allowance for fillies and mares 3 and up where My My Girl, third in the Aug. 21 Miss Disco last out, is the 8-5 program favorite. Five of Sunday’s eight races are scheduled for Laurel’s world-class turf course … There will be a jackpot carryover of $2,720.35 in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 (Races 3-8). Multiple tickets with all six winners Saturday returned $175.12.