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Safely Kept-Housebuster quite a match


It's the type of stuff racetrack promoters dream about, sort of a match race between the Flo-Jo and Carl Lewis of horses.

In one lane, there's Safely Kept, the country's fastest sprinting filly or mare, the best of her sex.

In lane two, there's Housebuster, the quickest male horse.

Both meet for the first time at Laurel on Saturday in the $300,000 Frank De Francis Dash, Maryland's best race of the summer.

It was a championship bout that was supposed to take place a year ago, but didn't quite come off.

Housebuster, a glamour 3-year-old at the time, opted to strut his stuff at Saratoga.

That left Safely Kept to supposedly romp in the inaugural De Francis stakes, run at Pimlico.

Instead, she ran one of the poorest races of her career, finishing fourth at 4-5 odds behind record-setter Northern Wolf, now retired.

But it's a year later, and the time span figures to work to the advantage of Safely Kept.

Although Housebuster ended up being voted champion sprinter last year, he ended the season on a sour note, beaten by 15 lengths in the Vosburgh Handicap.

Housebuster hasn't regained his former aura of invincibility. Sent off the 2-5 favorite in his seasonal debut in March at Gulfstream Park, he finished second to Unbridled. In the interim, he's only won one race, and in his last start, tired badly in the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park.

It wasn't until two days ago, after an encouraging workout at his home base at Monmouth Park, that his trainer, Jimmy Croll, decided for sure to run against Safely Kept.

By contrast, Alan Goldberg, the trainer of Safely Kept, has been pointing his mare to the De Francis Dash in a three-race series spread over two months, and she's won all three starts.

She redeemed her disappointing showing in the De Francis last year by winning the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint. She hasn't lost since.

Goldberg acknowledges that Safely Kept is more mature this year, and she's sounder. She ran most of last season with a quarter crack in a hind hoof, and is now fully recovered. He also points out she's been closing with more verve, getting her final quarter mile in 24 seconds, even after running an opening quarter in 21.

Even though she's just been beating her own sex, Safely Kept gets a 5-pound allowance in the De Francis for being a female, carrying the lightest weight in any of her races this year. She won under 128 pounds in her seasonal opener. She prepped for the De Francis by carrying 126 pounds, at seven furlongs in the Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington Park, a race she won by 7 1/2 lengths.

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