Four stakes races stuff a fantastic Saturday card at Laurel Park, led by the tradition-rich Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash. The 6-furlong staple on the Maryland circuit returns to a July date for the first time since 2000 and has attracted a field of 8 sprinters. Who might add their name to a roll call of winners that include sprint stars like Housebuster, Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor's Echo and Benny the Bull?
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Grade 2 winner and Grade 1-placed SPECIAL RESERVE carries a decided class edge, returning to the races for the first time since November's Breeders' Cup Sprint. PICKIN' TIME is a Grade 3 winner and Grade 2-placed, while locally based WONDERWHERECRAIGIS also is a Grade 3 winner. ROYAL URN, THREES OVER DEUCES and BEREN are listed stakes winners. WAR TOCSIN is Grade 3-placed.
BEREN and WONDERWHERECRAIGIS consistently get to the front in their races, while SPECIAL RESERVE should be right up on the engine with them. WAR TOCSIN can add a bit more pressure, but likely isn't as fast as the top few. The pace looks strong, giving a late-running sort a chance if they fire their best shot.
SPECIAL RESERVE likely goes as a deserving favorite. He survived the speed duel best in the Breeders' Cup well enough when holding for fourth. While he doesn't need the lead, he might be fresh and cranked in his first start in about 9 months. He's had 11 straight superfecta finishes, including a couple in Grade 1s. He's the horse to beat under Victor Carrasco, a local pilot who is 3-for-5 teamed with Mike Maker in limited attempts, according to Betmix.
WONDERWHERECRAIGIS was disqualified from victory for interference in this race a year ago, his only loss in 4 races at Laurel on the dirt. Like SPECIAL RESERVE, the likely second betting favorite, comes into the DeFrancis off a layoff. He's unstarted since March's Dubai Golden Shaheen, a Group 1 where the waters were too deep. But this is a Grade 3 Bold Ruler winner at Belmont capable of knocking off more than just the locals. WONDERWHERECRAIGIS is drawn outside the other speed, and notably did win his only other previous attempt off a long layoff -- an allowance score in 2011 after 8 months on the sidelines. He'll be formidable for the wife-husband team of trainer Brittany, and jockey Sheldon, Russell.
Trainer Kelly Breen has entered New Jersey-bred and based runners ROYAL URN and PICKIN' TIME. While ROYAL URN upset PICKIN' TIME in the Reilly at Monmouth against state-breds, the form certainly looks deeper for PICKIN' TIME overall. He won the City of Laurel over this track at 7 furlongs in November against then-fellow sophomores. The 4-year-old would seem to have more upside in this second start of 2022. The fast early pace expected should fit the running styles of both Breen trainees.
BEREN and THREES OVER DEUCES re-match after finishing 2-3 behind classy NY Traffic in the Chocolate Town stakes at Penn National. THREES OVER DEUCES had a horrible trip missing the start last time and should get every chance to turn the tables on his rival. Consider that BEREN will have a lot of top-class early company to fend off with the likely DeFrancis favorites breathing down his neck.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
PICKIN' TIME has been in the money in 4 straight sprints at 6 furlongs and should have a great pace set-up for his rally.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
THREES OVER DEUCES was 23-1 runner-up on Preakness Day and never gets much mutuels attention despite a consistent record.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$70 win PICKIN' TIME. $15 exacta box PICKIN' TIME and SPECIAL RESERVE ($30).