De Francis Dash on Table for G3 Winner Wondrwherecraigis

De Francis Dash on Table for G3 Winner Wondrwherecraigis

Watch and Wager from Laurel on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes
Three Allowances Among Friday’s Live Nine-Race Program

BALTIMORE – Given time to recover from his late March trip to Dubai, Grade 3 winner Wondrwherecraigis is likely to launch his comeback next month in the $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.

Trainer Brittany Russell said Thursday that she and owners Madaket Stables, The Elkstone Group and Michael Dubb will sit down and discuss options, but felt the six-furlong Dash for 3-year-olds and up July 16 makes sense.

“He’s doing great. He had a nice work on Sunday and he made me feel good,” Russell said. “He showed kind of the old ‘Craig’ on Sunday, so I was pretty excited after he worked. I think we’ll just keep him ticking along each week and if all goes well … I would think locally we would consider the Dash.”

Wondrwherecraigis, a 5-year-old Munnings gelding, breezed a half-mile in 48.80 seconds June 5 at Laurel, ranking 12th of 39 horses. He returned to the work tab for the first time since his overseas trip with a three-furlong move in 38.40 seconds May 25.

Winner of the Jan. 29 Fire Plug at Laurel to open his campaign, Wondrwherecraigis wound up 10th of 13 horses in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) March 26 at Meydan, won by Switzerland, an 8-year-old gelding that won the 2018 De Francis and has been based in the Middle East since 2019.

It was just the third time off the board in 12 career starts for Wondrwherecraigis, who owns seven wins – three in stakes – and $407,640 in purse earnings. The connections have been patient in bringing him back, giving him down time the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. before resuming his training.

“I know that everybody has th perspective on how to handle the horses coming back from Dubai. I think it does take a lot out of them. It’s a lot of traveling. Even when we were over there, as well as we thought he was doing, I don’t think you really know until you run them,” Russell said. “I think you also see that people who ship early and their horse spends more time there, they seem to compete better.

“Coming back, for him to spend time at Fair Hill and just be able to catch his breath I think it was extremely beneficial. He came right back in the barn and acted like he was really ready to get back to work, because that’s just the nature of him. He’s an athlete; he wants to work,” she added. “He came around quick, since we gave him that time. I see the old ‘Craig.’ I’m happy with what I see. The fact that we gave him enough time to get over it should let him be where he needs to be.”

Wondrwherecraigis crossed the wire first in last year’s De Francis, three-quarters of a length ahead of Jalen Journey, but was ruled to have interfered with the runner-up near the sixteenth pole and disqualified and placed second. Wondrwherecraigis became a graded winner in his subsequent start, the Bold Ruler (G3) at Belmont Park.

“It would be huge. We always talk about it. He’s very special to us. He’s our big guy, and to have a shot to win a big race like that it Maryland would be really exciting,” Russell said. “I just pray that he stays healthy and keeps doing well.”

The De Francis, a listed stake for 2022, was contested as a Grade 1 race from 1999-2009, Grade 2 from 1994-98 and Grade 3 in 1992-93 and 2016-21. It is one of four stakes worth $450,000 in purses July 16 at Laurel, each part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

Watch and Wager from Laurel on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes

In addition to its live 10-race program, Laurel Park will give fans the chance to watch and wager on the Belmont Stakes (G1), third leg of the Triple Crown, Saturday from Belmont Park.

Laurel will open its doors at 10:45 a.m. Saturday. First post at Belmont is 11:20 a.m., while the Belmont Stakes is carded as Race 11 of 13 with a 6:44 p.m. post time.

The 1 ½-mile Belmont attracted a field of eight including Rich Strike, 80-1 winner of the Kentucky Derby (G1), as well as Creative Minister and Skippylongstocking, respectively third and fifth in the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 21 at historic Pimlico Race Course.

Trainer Graham Motion, based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., has horses entered in three stakes on Belmont Day led by May 14 Man o’ War (G1) winner Highland Chief in the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan (G1) on turf. Motion also has the Maryland-bred Divine Huntress, fourth in the May 20 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico, in the one-mile Acorn (G1).

Motion will send out R. Larry Johnson’s 8-year-old True Valour in the Jaipur (G1) sprinting six furlongs on the grass. Bred in Ireland, True Valour returned from more than a year between starts to capture the 5 ½-furlong King T. Leatherbury in front-running fashion April 23 at Laurel. Also in the Jaipur are Arrest Me Red, a debut winner in August 2020 at Laurel for trainer Wesley Ward that went on to become a multiple graded-stakes winner, and Smokin’ Jay, runner-up in Pimlico’s Jim McKay Turf Sprint May 21.

Among other horses with Maryland connections running on Belmont Day are Aloha West, the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner bred in Maryland by trainer Katy Voss and her late partner Bob Manfuso, in the Met Mile (G1), along with 2020 Federico Tesio winner Happy Saver; Chasing Time, third in the May 21 Chick Lang (G3) at Pimlico, in the Woody Stephens (G1); Fearless, third in the 2021 Pimlico Special (G3), in the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn (G2); and Bonny South, beaten a neck in the 2020 Black-Eyed Susan, facing Letruska in the Ogden Phipps (G1).

Laurel will offer advance wagering Friday on the entire Belmont Day program including four two-day double wagers, the two-day Pick 4 wager and two-day Pick 6 wager.

Post time for Laurel’s live programs Friday and Saturday is 12:40 p.m.

Three Allowances Among Friday’s Live Nine-Race Program

Laurel Park will open the second weekend of its 37-day summer meet with a live, nine-race program Friday starting at 12:40 p.m.

Highlighting Friday’s card is a one-mile, entry-level optional claiming allowance for 3-year-old fillies in Race 8, where My Racehorse Stable and Spendthrift Farm’s A Mo Reay is the 9-5 program favorite. Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the $400,000 daughter of champion Uncle Mo was third in the Frizette (G1) in her second career start last fall at Belmont Park, capping her juvenile season with a maiden special weight triumph at Aqueduct. She was eased and walked off the track in her lone race this year April 8 at Keeneland.

A Mo Reay drew the rail in a field of seven and will be ridden by Victor Carrasco.

Race 5 is a wide-open first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up sprinting 5 ½ furlongs on the main track. Sophomore Sugar Gray Leonard is the narrow 5-2 morning-line favorite after beating older horses in a May 5 maiden special weight at Laurel. Maryland-breds Abuelo Paps and Seven On the Rocks have combined to finish third or better in 26 of 54 lifetime starts. Big Tall Dawg has put together back-to-back wins, both in off-the-turf sprints at the distance.

An entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for 5 ½ furlongs on the All Along turf course drew an overflow field of 13 in Race 7. That’s Right, a five-length maiden special weight winner in his turf debut May 20 at historic Pimlico Race Course is the 9-5 program favorite, but is the first of three also-eligible. In the main body of the race He’s Orientate, Gold Guy, Whenigettoheaven and Mosler Safe are all coming off wins.

Friday’s card wraps up with a maiden special weight for horses age 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the Dahlia turf course. Awesome Man was runner-up in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on dirt May 14 at Pimlico, while Tiz a Giant ran second against older horses in a one-mile maiden special weight over the all-weather surface May 17 at Presque Isle Downs. Hard Traveler also faced elders when third by less than two lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on the Pimlico turf May 21.