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.

The biggest drawback is that once again she has been jilted by Craig Perret, her regular jockey. Last year, Perret opted to ride Housebuster at Saratoga and Goldberg put Chris Antley on Safely Kept in the De Francis. It was a classic mismatch. The mare resented Antley, dropping back off the pace instead of setting it.

Goldberg did not criticize Antley after the race, but has never ridden him again. Perret chose to ride Housebuster over Safely Kept in Saturday's race, but that does not necessarily mean he feels he's on the better horse.

Goldberg said Perret is merely being loyal to Croll and owner jTC Bobby Levy, who have used him as their first call rider for nearly 15 years.

Goldberg named Corey Black to ride Safely Kept. Black rode her to a front-running win in her first start of the season, and she reeled off fractions of :21 4/5, :44 2/5 and 1:08 2/5. She'll have to run that fast, or faster to win this Saturday. In addition to Housebuster, she also has to face four other speedy male horses-- Clever Trevor, Sunny Blossom, Robyn Dancer and Bravely Bold.

"It's a tough race," Goldberg said, with a measure of understatement. But he also added that he regards Safely Kept as the best American sprinter of the last 20 years, "probably of either sex," he added.

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