The 11-horse field in the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at
was packed with strong sprinters from New York and New Jersey, but when the competitors in the six-furlong race reached the wire, it was Maryland-bred Action Andy, the sixth betting choice, by a literal whisker.
In a photo finish, Action Andy edged Kentucky-bred and second choice Il Villano, officially by a nose.
The 5-year-old son of Gators N Bears came into the race off a win in the Maryland Million Sprint, but went off at 10-to-1 odds, paying $22.00, $9.20 and $6.60 after covering the dirt course in 1:10.61.
When the numbers went up on the scoreboard and Action Andy was declared the winner, no one was more thrilled than the horse's owner, Baltimore native Robert Gerczak.
"Ah, geeze," he said. "It was a whisker. [Jockey Horacio] Karamanos pushed him at the end. The horse is always at his best, and Carlos [trainer Carlos Garcia] is doing such a great job. It's very euphoric what's going on right now."
Euphoria could also be found in the $150,000 Laurel Dash, a six-furlong race on the turf, in which 3-year-old filly Jazzy Idea — the only filly in the eight-horse race — upset defending champion Ben's Cat. Bred, owned and trained by Edwin Merryman, Jazzy Idea broke her own track record, covering the distance in 1:07.29, to beat Ben's Cat, by 3/4 of a length.
"She is something else," Merryman said. "She leaves me speechless. She's my best horse, far and away better than anything I've ever had my hands on."
Jazzy Idea, a daughter of Great Notion, has won all three of her races at Laurel Park. Her previous win was three weeks ago on dirt in the Maryland Million Day Oaks. She paid $6.80 to win Saturday.
"He ran his race," said King Leatherbury, who bred, owns and trains Ben's Cat.
Ben's Cat has won more than $1 million in his career and won five straight races at Laurel Park before Saturday.
"He got a great trip and ran the best he could," Leatherbury said. "It figures a closer would win it, and she established a new track record and beat me. She is a 3-year-old filly super horse."
Action Andy is something of a super horse, too.
While somewhat overlooked by the crowd of 5,049, he ran like an action hero. After breaking sharply, he ran four wide down the back stretch and then angled out five wide coming down the front stretch before coming to match Il Villano at the wire. Il Villano paid $5.40 and $4.60 for his second-place finish.
"My horse gave his everything today," Il Villano jockey Kendrick Carmouche said. "I thought I had enough to win."
Action Andy was the first horse entered in the De Francis Dash by Garcia, and the victory was career win No. 145 for the trainer who is based at Laurel Park.
"Ah, geeze," Gerczak said again. "It feels so good. My heart was in my throat. And winning — it's like winning the
for us little guys."
Previously a Grade I race, the De Francis Dash lost its rating when it did not run for two (2008 and 2010) of three years due to purse account shortfalls. It is, however, still considered one of the top sprint races in the country.
Besides the $350,000 De Francis Dash and the $150,000 Laurel Dash, there were four other $150,000 stakes races on Saturday's card. Mystic Love rallied from next to last to win the Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies; Tate's Landing came from off the pace to win the Laurel Futurity for 2-year-old males; Silver Screamer won the Lady Baltimore, a 1 1/16th-mile race for fillies and mares; and Dannhauser, who went off at 22-1 in the Laurel Turf Cup and used a ground-saving ride by the track's leading jockey,
, to win by a neck and paid $46.20.